After working for well over two years without a collective agreement, the university’s 800 invigilators, unionized since April 2010 under AGSEM: McGill’s Teaching Union, finally ratified a contract last Wednesday. While Robert Comeau, Director of Employee and Labour Relations for McGill, says the University is “pleased” with the outcome, a frustrated AGSEM executive is saying they only recommended its members ratify this contract in hopes of a better deal next time.
The major win for the union will be the length of the contract – two years, instead of the three originally requested by the University. According to AGSEM bargaining committee member Sunci Avlijas, the union thinks it will be able to make more gains for its members – especially where pay is concerned – in their second collective agreement negotiations, when the union will have recourse to striking.
The University and the union have been in arbitration since September 2012, which means that a provincially-appointed arbitrator has been overseeing negotiations with the power to impose a contract on both parties. The arbitrator also had the power to order the union back to work should it have gone on strike.
AGSEM requested arbitration as early as December 2011 following what they say were deliberate delays in the negotiation process on the part of the University, including a series of last-minute meeting cancellations. “[The University] behaved a lot differently” once an arbitrator was appointed, Avlijas told The Daily.
Arbitration sped up the process, but for AGSEM it also meant lowering the union’s expectations. Any contract imposed by an arbitrator must be in line with industry averages for first collective agreements.
“If McGill felt that an imposed agreement gave invigilators better than average working conditions, they would have the opportunity to appeal the case to the Labour Commission,” AGSEM Grievance Officer Jamie Burnett told The Daily in an email.
“This isn’t what we think is fair, or what we think is great, but it’s what we thought we could get in arbitration,” Burnett told his members at the union’s General Assembly last Wednesday regarding the 65 cent raise the union wrangled for its members – a disappointing figure compared to the $5.25 it originally demanded.
As soon as the contract is signed, invigilators will receive $10.65 an hour – $11.08 including 4 per cent vacation indemnity pay – which will put them at the lower end of provincial and Montreal averages. Including vacation pay, the Université de Montréal pays its invigilators $12 an hour, and the Université du Québec à Montréal pays theirs $13.61. On the other hand, Concordia pays its invigilators a flat $10 an hour.
Another major concession for AGSEM concerns working conditions. Avlijas told The Daily that despite Enrolment Services always receiving enough applications for invigilation positions, Deputy Invigilators often have difficulty actually filling the available shifts, making it hard to follow established internal policies
The union did a survey of those invigilators who quit after the fall semester, and found that most cited the work as being too stressful for how low the pay was as a reason for not returning.
According to that same survey, 73 per cent of respondents felt that it was at least sometimes the case that “there were too many students and not enough invigilators to ensure that Academic Integrity is respected.”
For this reason, AGSEM argued in negotiations that student-to-invigilator ratios are an integral part of working conditions, and asked the University to include a clause to maintain a “reasonable” ratio.
The University refused to include a clause. According to Comeau, “McGill is of the opinion that this is a management concern.”
Nevertheless, the union is happy to finally have a contract – especially one that does establish a few important improvements.
The contract guarantees a paid 15-minute break for every four hour shift, paid overtime and training, minor improvements in bereavement leave, and protection from penalties in the case of sick leave. It defines the length of a shift, the application process, as well as hiring practices and priorities (anyone may apply to invigilate, but experience will be favoured).