The Association of McGill Undergraduate Student Employees (AMUSE) was certified as an official union last month after a year-and-a-half-long accreditation process. Every casual worker at McGill, roughly 65 per cent of whom are students, will now be represented by the union.
The union was approved by the Québec Commission des normes du travail as a local of the Alliance de la Fonction public du Canada-Québec (AFCP-Québec). Veronique Allard, one of the lead organizers of AFCP-Québec, said the presence of AMUSE at McGill will close an important gap in labour standards on campus not filled by the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) for many employees at the McGill bookstore, libraries, food services, and athletic facilities.
“MUNACA represents the non-academic regular employees, but whenever someone used to go on maternity or sick leave, they would be replaced by casual [workers]. And these casuals did not benefit from the same working conditions put in place [for MUNACA members], creating a huge double standard system,” she said.
AMUSE’s accreditation process began a year and a half ago. From September of 2008 to April of 2009, volunteers collected signatures from casual workers indicating interest in unionizing. While the exact number is not public, volunteers signed between 35 and 50 per cent of workers. In a representation vote this autumn organized by the Commission des normes du travail, 85 per cent of voters supported the union.
Max Silverman, former SSMU VP External and volunteer coordinator for last year’s signature drive, said the idea of unionizing was well received by casual workers.
“When out card signing, we got an unbelievable amount of support. Everyone agreed there are lots of issues in the work place for casual workers and thought a union would help address those,” he said.
However, AMUSE members still have to complete several steps before they can begin negotiating a collective agreement with McGill, including organizing a general assembly, drafting bylaws, and electing an executive and bargaining committee. Allard anticipated this process would take a year for AMUSE.
Under Quebec labour law, all casual workers will be protected by the collective agreement and responsible for membership dues, though only members who sign membership cards will be eligible to run for office within the union.
Allard hoped the presence of AMUSE at the university would help to improve labour relations for undergraduate workers, which she felt were problematic.
‘There are so many people who are not unionized at McGill. I hope this is going to change soon on campus,” she said. “Casual workers are usually the most vulnerable, and the fact that there was so much support for this drive shows there’s still work to do to support these people.”