With the new school year comes a completely new living standard for McGill’s Floor Fellows. In March 2023, Student Housing and Hospitality Services (SHHS) communicated to Floor Fellows that instead of being housed in the biggest rooms in university residences as previously done, they would now have to stay in the smallest rooms.
A statement from McGill’s Media Relations Office explained to the Daily that this decision is in response to a growing demand for student housing in which “the number of housing applicants far exceeds the available capacity.” The rooms previously occupied by Floor Fellows will be “modified/renovated into multiple rooms to increase [the] capacity of students”, according to an email obtained by the Daily. This would in turn generate additional revenue for SHHS as they would be able to house more students or charge more for larger rooms with more amenities.
In response, the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE), which represents floor fellows, has filed a grievance against the university on the grounds that this new plan goes against the terms set out in the Floor Fellow Collective Agreement.
“We’re going to see a really big reduction in floor fellows’ privacy, in our comfort, our ability to ever take a meaningful break from working, and also just a really big decline in the quality of care and service that we offer to our residents because of these adjustments,” explained Graeme Scott, AMUSE’s VP Floor Fellows.
This news came less than a year after AMUSE negotiated a new collective agreement with McGill in April 2022. The agreement was only reached after a bargaining process lasting since June 2020 and culminating with a strike in March 2022. According to both Scott and AMUSE president James Newman, the possibility of these new living accommodations were never mentioned during the negotiations, despite documents obtained by the Daily indicating that this plan has been in the works for five years.
McGill’s Media Relations Office issued a statement to the Daily explaining that “The renovations were not a factor in the negotiations with the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE) and are a separate project that does not affect the terms of the contract.”
Nevertheless, the union is accusing its employer, McGill, of bargaining in bad faith: “I think it would have radically changed the bargaining process,” Newman, who was on the bargaining committee, told the Daily. “Had we known about this policy, this definitely would have been something we would have spoken very passionately about.”
Scott agreed: “They knew that [these arrangements] would be perceived negatively by the Floor Fellow community. They chose to withhold those plans from us and then strike at a time when I think they felt we were vulnerable.”
AMUSE filed a grievance in May 2023 on the basis that this was a significant change in their working conditions established by the collective agreement, a violation of their right to a 36-hour rest period, and that McGill bargained in bad faith. To both Scott and Newman’s knowledge, Floor Fellows were never consulted at any point when the plan was being developed. Within two weeks of filing the grievance, McGill responded that it was unfounded, arguing that the new accommodations were a “purely operational decision” according to a statement made to the Daily. AMUSE has now referred the grievance to their parent union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC)’s legal team.
Scott said that if this case gets taken to court, “we’re confident that we will have a positive outcome for the Union.” However, this process could take months to years to be resolved.
In the meantime, AMUSE asked SHHS for some informal accommodations to improve the Floor Fellows’ quality of living, such as designated bathrooms for Floor Fellows only. They were told that such accommodations were logistically infeasible in an email shared with the Daily. However, SHHS agreed to some minor changes, such as adding towel hooks in shower stalls so that Floor Fellows wouldn’t have to walk around naked.
What will the working conditions look like?
Floor Fellows are upper-year students who live in residences alongside first-year students. Their job is to provide support to first-year students and help them with the transition to university, — they’re often the first person residents come to when they’re experiencing problems. According to Scott, living alongside first-year students can make it hard for Floor Fellows to maintain a healthy work-life balance, given that they have to maintain a professional demeanor whenever they might encounter a student. Having larger rooms with more amenities such as private kitchens or bathrooms allowed a certain degree of privacy and separation that won’t exist with the new living accommodations. Now, floor fellows have to share kitchens and bathrooms with their residents, many of whom may still be underage.
This is particularly concerning to Scott, who was previously placed on a floor with all female residents, which, being a man, made him feel uncomfortable. Although he said that this type of situation is not supposed to happen, “it still happened due to various administrative oversights and mistakes and the problem was never addressed.” He says that this situation would’ve been even worse if he’d had to share bathrooms with the residents on his floor.
However, he added that “it’s the kind of situation that would not be a problematic situation, if there were systems in place to make sure that floor fellows could maintain legal boundaries and privacy.” Thanks to the new living arrangements, he explained, “those systems are being taken away.”
Shared bathrooms with residents have long been a reality in some McGill residences, such as the Upper Residences and Royal Victoria College. Scott was able to gather testimonies from Floor Fellows who had already lived in this situation to better understand what it was like. Most testimonies showed that floor fellows sharing kitchens or bathrooms with residents were often put in very uncomfortable situations, especially when sharing bathrooms with the opposite gender, that negatively affected their relationship with their residents and undermined their authority. In some cases, respondents even expressed concern that this arrangement opened up possibilities for floor fellows to be assaulted or harassed.
“There are several Floor Fellows who are not returning this year entirely because of the renovation situation,” said Scott. “These were employees who were in good standing, they were very passionate about their jobs and they gave a lot to […] their residents. I think that it’s a real shame that we’re seeing a lot of really passionate and experienced portfolios being driven away from the position because of this policy.”
To acknowledge the downgrade in Floor Fellows’ living, SHHS has provided free laundry services and an unlimited meal plan, addressing previous points of contention for Floor Fellows.
Nevertheless, the testimonies indicated that sharing bathrooms and kitchens with residents will likely reduce Floor Fellows’ privacy and their ability to maintain professional boundaries, which in turn takes a toll on their mental health. Floor Fellows play an important role in helping first-year students transition to university life, and may have to deal with serious situations such as mental health crises and sexual assault. Living arrangements that negatively impact their mental health carries over to the quality of care that floor fellows are able to provide to their residents, according to Scott.
Aside from pursuing the grievance, Scott says that the Union will continue to document its members’ concerns to ensure that they don’t get “swept under the rug.” He encourages Floor Fellows to continue to make their concerns heard to SHHS.
According to Newman, McGill has maintained that these concerns should be brought to the Labour Relation Committee (LRC) meetings. However, he claims that when the Union does take matters to LRC meetings, the people with the power to address them aren’t present.
“It’s very unfortunate, we would have loved to have been part of the consultation process for this,” he said. “We would love to discuss our concerns and maybe work out something together.”