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McGill Teaching Assistants on strike

McGill’s 2,000 teaching assistants (TAs) began striking today
following the breakdown of negotiations at two final meetings during
which the University continued to resist a compromise.

“We didn’t want this to happen, but we were pushed to make this
decision,” said Nasser Al-Jundi, Information Research Officer for the
Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM).

“McGill closed all of the doors. They’re not serious in their
negotiations, and it’s time to send the message that we are serious,”
Al-Jundi added.

TAs are protesting the University’s failure to accommodate the union’s
demands for a new collective agreement, which expired in June.

Negotiations have been ongoing since October.

Taxi cabs, bikers, and mail trucks passing the 30 TAs congregated at
the Roddick Gates Tuesday afternoon honked and cheered in support of
the workers’ strike. The TAs – who are planning a day of action for
Thursday – carried posters that read “McGill works because we do” and
“McGill TAs on strike.”

“There is a great spirit,” said AGSEM president Salim Ali, noting the
abundance of emails AGSEM has received from undergraduates and

AGSEM’s last formal agreement with the University took over two years to negotiate, and was highlighted by a strike in 2003

AGSEM and the University met for over six hours on Saturday and five
on Monday, during which the union unsuccessfully revisited their
demands for changes in the contract regarding wages, class sizes, and
training. According to Ali, AGSEM approached the meetings in good
faith and attempted to explore different options, but the University
refused to meet proposals in terms of their monetary demands.

“The University says AGSEM needs another proposal for money. We’ve
explored options and we thought they’d consider our demands,” he said.

McGill’s TAs currently earn $22.24 per hour, but are requesting an
increase that would make their wages on par with the average
anglophone G-13 schools.

The administration is offering a two per cent raise per year,
asserting that McGill’s TAs receive the highest wages in the province,
according to Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) Morton

Despite the presence of a conciliator at negotiations, AGSEM accuses
the administration of refusing to compromise. They argued that the
University does not recognize the importance of TAs at McGill and
neglected to prevent a strike.

“The University is trying to avert a strike. They’re busy trying to
reduce the effect and make people scared of a strike,” Ali said.

Hours after AGSEM’s announcement, Mendelson distributed an email to
undergraduates clarifying that the University will remain open and
will function according to regular procedures despite the strike.

Yet confusion persists. Today, one department head told TAs they had
one week to complete their outstanding work, and students still do not
understand if they must complete assignments.

All TAs are prohibited from working during a strike.

The two parties are not scheduled to meet until next week, but
Al-Jundi said that AGSEM is more open to negotiations than ever.

The administration mirrored their sentiments. “We still hope that
negotiations will prove fruitful…. We want to resolve the dispute as
amicably as possible,” Mendelson said. “TAs are employees, but TAs are
also students. We are fully cognizant of that.”