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Invigilators file grievance against University

Grievance comes one week after signing of first collective agreement

Correction appended October 21, 2013. 

Only a week after invigilators, unionized under Unit 2 of AGSEM: McGill’s Teaching Union, formally signed their first collective agreement with the University, the union has filed formal grievances against McGill.

According to AGSEM, the University put up job postings for invigilators for the final exam period several days before the formal signing ceremony on October 7. However, AGSEM’s grievance lies in the fact that the postings were still open after the agreement came into effect, and that the postings were restrictive.

“Before the collective agreement actually came into effect last Monday, McGill could legally do whatever they wanted in terms of how they advertised the positions.” Jamie Burnett, AGSEM’s Invigilator Grievance Officer, told The Daily. “But as of Monday, October 7, the postings that they had needed to correspond to the criteria outlined in the collective agreement.”

One of the contraventions AGSEM described was that the postings were restricted solely to McGill graduate students. To access the application, potential applicants had to enter their McGill ID and password – something Burnett and Sunci Avlijas, Vice-President for Invigilators and TAs, feel violates the terms of the agreement.

“The position that was advertised on Monday October 7, in our opinion, is a contravention of the agreement, in that it was restricted to graduate students,” said Burnett. The collective agreement, as signed, allows anyone to apply for an invigilator position, and gives hiring priority to those who have worked as invigilators before.

While not all invigilators are graduate students, according to Avlijas, around 90 per cent are. However, in order to ensure that there is equal access to all positions, AGSEM is asking McGill to reopen the posting with less restrictive terms.

However, Avlijas brought forward the fact that it was McGill, and not AGSEM, who originally pushed for the applications to remain open to more than graduate students during the bargaining period.

“I don’t know exactly what their reasoning was [at the time], but to me […] the potential intent of doing this was to downplay the extent to which invigilation is done by graduate students, in order to weaken our argument for higher salaries for invigilators.”

In an interview with The Daily, Robert Comeau, McGill Employee and Labour Relations Director, stated that he was “aware that there are two grievances now.”

“The hard position is that they are grieving a situation that happened before they had a collective agreement,” said Comeau. “So before we signed last Monday, they were not able to grieve the situation. Of course now we have a collective agreement, we will follow it.”

However, Avlijas countered Comeau’s claim. “Now, they were not legally required to follow those rules prior to October 7, but it’s not like they didn’t know about the rules. The person who put up the postings was on McGill’s bargaining committee. She’s one of the people who signed the collective agreement.”

“But they didn’t even do that properly because the postings didn’t close until October 7, and on the 7th the collective agreement was in effect, and so we have filed grievances,” Avlijas added.

Comeau stated, however, that “we had a discussion and an agreement that anything we are not on the same page on, we would agree to meet with what we call the ‘union management committee,’ and we already have scheduled one to discuss the grievances.”

The meeting, scheduled for early November, according to Comeau, would be the chance for the University to address “the way that we will be applying the selection process for this year[’s] exam period.”

“I have no doubt we will find a solution,” Comeau said.

“All we want McGill to do is reopen the applications,” Avlijas stated to The Daily. “There is plenty of time to do that before December, [allowing] anybody to apply, and following the rules set out in the collective agreement.”

“It doesn’t actually cost McGill any money, it just is a matter of respect [for us and] for the collective agreement.”

Since 2010, invigilators have been unionized under Unit 2 of AGSEM, and had worked without a collective agreement until two weeks ago. The agreement was the first to be signed by Unit 2, which represent invigilators. Unit 3, which represents course lecturers and instructors, negotiates agreements separately.

“We’re pretty happy that it’s signed, we’re not entirely happy with a lot of terms, but we’re glad to have a collective agreement, and we’re looking forward to the next negotiations, which will not be so limited,” said Avlijas.

Some of the terms that the union was less pleased with include salaries, which, despite plenty of negotiations, still sit at $10.65 an hour – among the lowest in the province.

While the agreement was initially ratified in May at the AGSEM General Assembly, problems followed the invigilators over the summer prior to the official signing of the contract in October.

Comeau told The Daily that he believed “both parties were happy when we were able to finalize their agreement,” and acknowledged the fact that “it took a long time, because we negotiated, we went to conciliation and at the end we finished with the arbitrator.”

“Unfortunately we didn’t actually reach an agreement with McGill on the final version to sign until August, because McGill kept on asking us to remove entire articles from the agreement in principle which we signed in front of the arbitrator. And we couldn’t do that, because our General Assembly already ratified it, and also we wouldn’t agree with it because it’s not fair,” Avlijas stated.

With files from Dana Wray.

In an earlier version of this article The Daily incorrectly stated that AGSEM: McGill’s Teaching Union came to their first collective agreement. In fact it was the invigilators, Unit 2 of AGSEM , who came to their first collective agreement with the University. In the same article, The Daily wrote that invigilators filed grievances two weeks after signing – however grievances were filed one week after, on October 15. The Daily regrets these errors.