On January 25, McGill’s three biggest campus unions signed a statement of solidarity to share respective bargaining agreements and support collective action. The three unions, the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), McGill’s Union of Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA), and the Association of McGill Undergraduate Student Employees (AMUSE), represent about 5,000 campus workers. They signed the statement of solidarity, nicknamed the “founding document,” as all three head into bargaining agreements with McGill in the coming months.
“The administration has taken quite a hard line with the unions on campus the last several years,” said Michael Rozworski, AGSEM VP External. “We figure that if the unions agree to share information and formalize our relationship a bit more, we could be in a better position vis-à-vis the aggressive stance of the administration.”
Rozworski said representatives from each of the unions have been in informal discussion about a statement of solidarity since the fall, but agreements accelerated as each union drew closer to beginning their bargaining negotiations with McGill.
“[AGSEM’s] contract expires in June, MUNACA’s expired in November, AMUSE – as a casual workers union – is just negotiating their first contract,” said Rozworski. “The fact that we’re all entering negotiations with McGill kick started the process.”
MUNACA President Kevin Whittaker, who is currently helping negotiate a new collective agreement with McGill, said that solidarity between campus unions could help present a united front against the University in contract negotiations.
“In the past there have been things going on in other units that not everyone has known about,” said Whittaker. “We don’t want them to pit us against each other, and give one group things and not others.”
The statement articulates that all signatory unions will share information “relevant to union activity at the University…[that] is not necessary to keep confidential.” However despite the emphasis on greater communication, collective action, and information sharing, Rozworski said the statement maintains the autonomy of each union.
“The idea behind this is to have it be quite a simple agreement, and one that’s relatively non-committal in some kind of deeper sense,” said Rozworski. “There’s no attempt at deeper integration, I don’t think there are any risks associated with this at this stage, in the form it is now.”
Both Robert Comeau, McGill Employee and Labour Relations Director, and Lynne Gervais, McGill Associate Vice-President (Human Resources) – two of the University’s primary negotiators with campus unions – were unaware of the unions’ statement when The Daily approached them for comment.
“This is not going to impact our negotiations at all,” said Gervais. “We negotiate with each other individually.”
“They [the unions] already talk to each other as it is,” she added.
AGSEM recently clashed with the University after attempting to incorporate sessional course lecturers into their union. They are hopeful that this statement of solidarity will help further this cause.
“That’s another area where the administration has taken a hard line, and where we need all the support we can get,” said Rozworski.
“I’m especially happy also because – as AGSEM representing academic workers, working together with the non-academic staff – that shows that interests are the same across…the different employee groups across campus,” he added.