News  Floor fellow union drive reaches critical point

Group clashes with administration in push for clearer contracts, increased consultation

Correction appended April 30, 2014.

On March 3, floor fellows at McGill filed a request to unionize to the Commission de relations du travail du Québec. If unionized, the floor fellows would be eligible to join the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE).

In order to apply for certification, the union drive gathered signed application cards in support of unionization from over 50 percent of the 72 floor fellows currently employed. According to Allison Jones, a floor fellow at Solin Hall and one of those leading the union drive, the Commission has deemed that the required process was followed properly and has accepted all the cards submitted.

According to the Quebec Labour Code, a vote to unionize must be called “whenever a petitioning association comprises between 35% and 50% of the employees.” A vote by secret ballot is then conducted by the Commission, generally one week after receiving the application for certification. In cases where the group of employees filing for certification comprises the absolute majority, as in the case of McGill’s floor fellows, that association “is entitled to be certified” without a vote.

Upon reception of the application cards, the Commission requires the employing institution to provide a list of employees to determine the percentage of signatories. The list of employees submitted by McGill to the Commission had 121 names in total, and includes floor fellows from the Macdonald Campus as well as floor fellows hired for the 2014-15 year.

“[McGill is] saying that, because the hiring process happens in March, […] when we filed these cards, there’s actually that many people working,” AMUSE President Amber Gross said to The Daily.

A letter sent by McGill to the incoming floor fellows appointed for the 2014-15 academic year states that they are expected to perform their role starting on August 15, 2014. “As of March 3, we don’t think we can say that all the floor fellows for next year were working in those positions,” said Gross.

“When you unionize you don’t unionize individual workers, you unionize positions,” elaborated Gross. “We don’t believe that it is the case that there [are] 121 floor fellow positions – there are around 70 per year.”

“It was impossible for us […] to get [the incoming floor fellows’] signatures because they weren’t hired,” said Adam Finley, a floor fellow at the Carrefour Sherbrooke residence.

The group is also contesting the inclusion of the Macdonald Campus floor fellows on the employee list. Floor fellows at Macdonald Campus have a different hiring process and train separately, explained Bryan Wattie, a floor fellow at Macdonald Campus in 2010-11, and current floor fellow at Carrefour. “[E]ven from McGill’s managerial perspective their position is considered to be altogether different,” Wattie told The Daily.

The validity of McGill’s employee list will be determined by a commissioner at a hearing before the Commission on April 30. If the floor fellows’ 72-person list is accepted, the group will be entitled to be certified as a union.

In the event that the commissioner rules to accept the list of 121 employees suggested by the University, the floor fellows would still likely have enough signed cards to hold a vote on whether or not to unionize. “If the list were to include everybody [on the list submitted by McGill], we would have between 30 and 50 [percent],” Jones told The Daily.

The current union drive started in late November 2013. According to Jones, the announcement of changes to the hall director system was one of the factors behind the push for unionization. The change, which will be implemented in the 2014-15 year, will see around four full-time hall directors replace the part-time directors previously assigned to each of McGill’s nine residence halls.

“This change, and the way it was done, just made so many people incredibly mad. But also more than mad – […] disappointed, and frustrated, and kind of betrayed by [the residence system],” Jones told The Daily.

“We’ve seen [the current structure] work, we know it works; we don’t want to go in the direction of other schools,” Finley said to The Daily.

The floor fellows’ demands centre around the drafting of a more formalized contract to protect their working and living conditions, as well as the specifics of their jobs.

“There’s an importance to how vague our jobs are, but there are also really critical things to our positions that aren’t recognized in our contracts. Specifically, the importance of a student-centred approach, the importance of harm reduction, the importance of the rule of respect,” Jones said.

The current mobilization constitutes the third time that floor fellows have attempted to unionize in the past four years. One attempt was made in 2010, and another in 2012 after two floor fellows were dismissed for their involvement in the occupation of the James Administration building.

When contacted for an interview, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens said that Quebec labour laws prevented him from commenting as an employer.

An earlier version of this article stated that Doug Sweet had not responded to requests for comment. In fact, he had not been contacted for comment. The Daily regrets the error.