Following stalled and unfruitful negotiations with the University, McGill’s Teaching Assistants (TAs) will demonstrate this evening at the Roddick Gates.
Since October, the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), McGill’s TA union, has been unsuccessfully calling for better wages and working conditions from the University. Its contract expired in June.
The union has been walking on eggshells since the end of their contract, but according to AGSEM VP External Natalie Kouri-Towe, TAs have had enough.
“We’re getting tired, we’ve been negotiating so long, and we’ve been trying so hard to play nice,” Kouri-Towe said.
According to AGSEM President Salim Ali, the union’s most pressing demand is for higher salaries. At 2,000, TAs are the largest employed group on campus, but Ali claimed their salaries only amount to six per cent of the University’s budget.
AGSEM is requesting that McGill raise its TA salaries to at least the average among similar universities, such as the University of Toronto.
AGSEM hopes to negotiate a raise in TA salaries to meet the average of Canada’s anglophone G-13 schools, a group of the top Canadian research schools. McGill’s TAs make about $22.40 per hour – according to Ali, one of the lowest in the G-13.
However, some TAs – who asked to remain anonymous – did not support the union’s emphasis on wages over other grievances, such as workload and inconsistent contracts.
“Some TAs have decided that since money can be squeezed from the school it is righteous for them to do so,” one TA wrote in an email to The Daily.
Some noted that the number of hours they request at the start of a school year frequently does not correspond with the level of work that professors demand. Inconsistent work standards and grading policies throughout departments further challenge TAs, they said.
Others argued that given McGill’s deficit, it is important to allocate funding to areas with a greater need, like education services, libraries, and infrastructure repairs, and not TA salaries.
Salary debates aside, AGSEM says it is also protesting TAs’ lack of representation on McGill’s governing bodies. The administration has repeatedly denied the union’s requests for seats on the Board of Governors and Senate, the university’s governing bodies.
“We have a right to represent what we believe in,” Kouri-Towe said. “We want the University to recognize TAs as professionals.”
“TAs are the most up to date and advanced in their knowledge field….Just because we’re [also] students at the University doesn’t mean we deserve the same kind of working conditions,” she added.
AGSEM asserts that TAs will not strike, despite rumours circulating campus. But at its General Assembly in January, AGSEM members requested increasing pressure tactics.
Negotiations for the union’s last formal agreement with the University endured for over two years and culminated in a strike in 2003.
“We don’t want it to be another two years like last time,” Kouri-Towe said.
McGill administration representatives did not return multiple requests for comment.
AGSEM members are rallying today from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Roddick Gates.