As a new semester begins, the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) will resume bargaining with McGill for a new collective agreement for teaching assistants (TAs). On January 16, AGSEM marked the first day of bargaining by holding a rally outside of Roddick Gates and the McGill Human Resources office at 680 Sherbrooke. Under their slogan “New Year, New Wages”, they will be prioritizing monetary demands this semester, including a substantial wage increase for TAs.
Cal Koger-Pease, a member of the Bargaining Support Committee, said that so far, bargaining has been going well for AGSEM.
“We were able to get through almost all of our non-monetary demands,” they said in an interview with the Daily. Some of the non-monetary demands included increased protection for sexual harassment and discrimination as well as the right for TAs to use their preferred name when applying for positions.
Emma Mckay, AGSEM’s mobilization officer, also told the Daily that “we didn’t expect it to go so well so fast.” They explained that AGSEM started the bargaining process with the non-monetary demands because they were the most likely to be met. They sent the university their monetary proposal in December, and are hoping to receive a counter-proposal shortly.
To mark the beginning of the bargaining for this semester, AGSEM members first gathered in front of Roddick Gates and eventually marched down the street to 680 Sherbrooke. Here, members of AGSEM and the Concordia Research and Education Workers (CREW), AGSEM’s Concordian counterpart, gave speeches to the crowd. Bargaining Committee member Dallas Jokic also led a singalong of the American union song “Solidarity Forever” with lyrics tailored to AGSEM’s campaign.
Mckay describes the bargaining process as very participatory. AGSEM consulted with their members through surveys to understand what they wanted out of the process. In addition to the three members of the Bargaining Committee, there was also a Bargaining Support Committee composed of ten additional people helping to develop the proposals. All AGSEM members are allowed to attend bargaining meetings, and speakers at the rally encouraged TAs to accompany the Bargaining Committee to their negotiations.
Koger-Pease was involved in organizing TA participation in the bargaining process. They said that up to ten TAs have been attending the bargaining in person, with a few more joining online.
“It’s been a lot more exciting than I expected,” they said when describing the negotiations. “Everyone obviously has so much they’re fighting for, versus McGill [who’s] just kind of doing their job.”
Nevertheless, Koger-Pease is still nervous now that the union is bigger, as monetary demands are now on the table. TAs at McGill currently make $33.08 per hour, but are asking for an increase to $46.36 per hour. This number was obtained by averaging the pay rates at other research universities, such as the University of Toronto, Queen’s, McMaster, and Carleton, who all pay their TAs between $40-$50 per hour. In a previous interview with the Daily, Mckay stated that current wages are insufficient to meet the cost of living, saying that members were having difficulty affording food, rent, and medical care.
Mckay hopes that if negotiations are successful, it will set a precedent for other TA unions in Montreal. For example, Concordia TAs currently earn less than their counterparts at McGill. Mckay believes this is “totally unacceptable for the same high quality education.” They hope that if AGSEM can win a significant raise, this will help Concordia TAs fight for the same demand.
“When we show our fellow workers and McGill that we have the capacity to bargain for these life-changing demands, that would be a historic moment in negotiations with McGill,” McKay said.
The McGill Media Relations Office told the Daily that “McGill will not make any comments regarding the current discussions and will let the negotiation process run its course.”
There will be a TA Assembly on monetary negotiations on January 30, where AGSEM members will discuss and vote on future steps in the bargaining process. TAs interested in getting involved in bargaining can sign up at www.agsem.ca/open-bargaining.