McGill’s largest union gathered off-campus Wednesday night to celebrate its strength and prepare for a long road ahead.
And no, it wasn’t MUNACA.
On August 30th, the Association for Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) was accredited to represent the approximately 1,300 course lecturers at McGill.
Course lecturers joined teaching assistants (TAs) and invigilators, swelling AGSEM’s ranks to over 3,000 employees.
Marie Blais, vice-president of the Fédération nationale des enseignantes et enseignants du Quebec, said that the unionization of McGill’s contract-teaching staff represents a major victory.
“In our sector, McGill is like Quebecor,” Blais said, referring to the notoriously hard-bargaining media conglomerate.
According to the union, McGill’s course lecturers are the lowest paid in Quebec, despite a raise from $5,000 to $6,000 per three-credit course last fall, in the midst of the union’s organizing campaign.
Wednesday night’s meeting was the first General Assembly of the newly formed bargaining unit, where about fifty members adopted interim by-laws and learned about AGSEM’s structure.
The successful unionization – after four previous tries over the past twenty years – is due in large part to an organizing team led by chief unionizing drive coordinator Lilian Radovac.
“It seemed impossible only a couple of years ago,” Radovac said at the meeting.
Radovac, who has worked on the union drive for nearly a year and a half, explained that with the new unionization, times have changed.
“We are so damn strong,” she said, describing a “historic” time at McGill amidst growing faculty and student support of organized labour.
“When you really have power, you don’t always have to use it,” she said.
Adrienne Hurley, a professor in the department of East Asian Studies and a member of the McGill Faculty Labour Action Group (MFLAG), attended the AGSEM meeting to express support for the bargaining unit.
MFLAG was created less than a month ago by faculty members in support of MUNACA and other labour unions currently in negotiation with McGill. According to Hurley, the group has since grown to nearly 75 members.
As laid out by Quebec labour law, AGSEM’s new course lecturer bargaining unit has ninety days to come to the table ready to negotiate with McGill. In that time, course lecturers will elect executive and bargaining committees, and begin hammering out a package of demands.
Richard Hink, a member of AGSEM’s organizing team, said that they plan to have a demands package ready by mid-November.
AGSEM’s course lecturers will join the TA bargaining unit, the Association of McGill University Support Employees, and McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association in their ongoing labour negotiations with McGill.