Today, the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE) sent an open letter to Principal Suzanne Fortier (“Respect floor fellows, support students,” October 15, Commentary, page 9) regarding the collective bargaining process between floor fellows and the University.
Speaking to The Daily, Sadie McInnes, AMUSE VP Floor Fellow and a current floor fellow at Molson Hall, said, “The first time [the idea for a union] came up was in 2012, when two floor fellows at Solin Hall were fired for their involvement in the 2012 student strikes. So that highlighted the lack of job security that we had, and how that was linked to our housing security because we don’t have leases, and so when you lose your job, you also lose your home.”
The main objective of negotiations include an assured conservation of the floor fellows’ current core values: harm reduction and anti-oppression.
According to McInnes, harm reduction “is a model by which we were able to be a support for students. At other schools, [Resident Assistants (RAs)] ticket people for their drug or alcohol use or there are rules for drug and alcohol use. What we see is students hiding their drug use from the main support people in the building. It puts students in danger.”
The second value, anti-oppression, supports students that are part of groups which are often marginalized and works to ensure that harmful power dynamics are not recreated.
“As a floor fellow, I am deeply committed to our values of harm reduction and anti-oppression. I would not have applied to this job had those values not formed the foundation of the floor fellow role.”
In an email to The Daily, Cecilia MacArthur, a floor fellow at Solin Hall, said, “As a floor fellow, I am deeply committed to our values of harm reduction and anti-oppression. I would not have applied to this job had those values not formed the foundation of the floor fellow role.”
“These values are tried and true; they allow for the creation of a strong, supportive, respectful residence community. As floor fellows, we know this because we work with these values on a daily basis,” MacArthur continued.
MacArthur also expressed that these values are supported and appreciated by students who live in residences, as well. “I have had students in the past who have expressed that these values allowed them to feel respected and supported, and felt that these values critically shaped their rez – and McGill – experience,” she said.
The first 11 months of negotiations with McGill were about getting these core values down in writing, McInnes said. “We got a little bit written down, but there’s been this clause in this section that’s essentially [the University] saying, ‘Okay, we’ll write this down but we reserve the right to change this at any point.’’’
AMUSE then began to push for McGill to consult the floor fellows before making any changes to the core values of their job. AMUSE President Molly Swain told The Daily that the negotiations “really stalled because McGill is very reluctant to put anything in an agreement to protect those values.”
Swain noted that “McGill is generally known for driving a very, very hard bargain” in terms of negotiations with unions. Moreover, according to Swain, the type of emotional labour that floor fellows provide is fundamentally different from than that of many other employees at the university; making this is a new territory for everyone involved.
“Our first priority was about our values and about working conditions more generally and it was really in the process […] that we realized that by Quebec labour law we weren’t being paid legally.”
Asking for payment for floor fellows was a secondary priority for AMUSE. “Our first priority was about our values and about working conditions more generally and it was really in the process […] that we realized that by Quebec labour law we weren’t being paid legally,” McInnes said.
The Commission des normes du travail (CNT) has already ruled in favour of backpayments from McGill for two past floor fellows, precedence that could potentially lead to McGill floor fellows getting paid for the hours they put in.
As McGill ignores the union’s plea for payment, McInnes noted that “it feels like in the wake of discussion for remuneration, there’s an emphasis on cutting down the amount that we work, and that has the potential to really get in the way of student support, which has always [been what’s] important for us.”
“At the same time, there’s a capping of Residence Life Manager (RLM) hours. RLMs have less and less support from McGill and they have expressed a lot of frustration with McGill. We’re, at this point, being told more and more to rely on RLMs so much for what we do in our job; the concern there is that that’s not very feasible,” McInnes continued.
When reached out to comment on the negotiation process, Doug Sweet, McGill’s Director of Internal Communications, said that McGill would not be able to comment.
“I have heard surprise from my students regarding the conditions of our jobs.”
“McGill doesn’t comment on labour negotiations while they are continuing, except when issuing a joint statement of progress in the talks that has been agreed to by both parties in the negotiations,” Sweet said in an email to The Daily.
Swain commented that the fundamental reason for these negotiations is that “[floor fellows] want to be able to take care of their students in ways that they know are effective.”
MacArthur said that students living in residences are also in support of the floor fellows’ cause.
“I have heard surprise from my students regarding the conditions of our jobs. In particular, students have expressed shock at the fact that floor fellows do not have leases and thus lack housing security [and] at the fact that administrators are calling the shots, considering they’re so far removed from rez,’” MacArthur explained.