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“No Appetite” for Higher Wages

TAs wrestle to reach an agreement with McGill administration

Six months into negotiations with McGill, the Association of Graduate Students Employment at McGill (AGSEM) remains committed to bargaining for a new collective agreement for teaching assistants (TAs). After McGill shared their unwillingness to make concessions on AGSEM’s monetary demands during the ninth negotiation session, the TAs gathered for assembly to assess pressure tactics to win their proposals. On February 2, McGill offered their counter-proposal in rejection of AGSEM’s demands.

At the negotiation session on January 16, McGill was unprepared to provide their own counter-proposal. However, they indicated they had “no appetite” for the changes proposed by AGSEM. Among those demands, AGSEM is calling for a wage increase competitive to that of their counterparts in other top universities across Canada, a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) when inflation exceeds 3 per cent, and three distinct healthcare funds.

Emma McKay, mobilisation officer of AGSEM, told the Daily that “the teaching assistant contracts are continuing to get cut year after year with no explanation offered and student enrollment staying the same.”

Last year, TAs in the Religious Studies and Psychology department experienced a 20-30 hours drop per term. However, McGill resisted providing a baseline for the number of TA hours that would be tied to undergraduate enrollment.

TA Assembly

While the bargaining committee (BC) were able to secure agreements in principle on the majority of their non-monetary demands, they continued their effort to secure an agreement on monetary demands. On January 30, the BC called a Special Assembly in an attempt to assess “the appetite of TAs” to advance its pressure tactics to win their monetary demands.

“People are excited to fight for these monetary demands,” said McKay. The assembly had an almost record breaking turnout and was able to pass a unanimous motion that mandates the AGSEM to escalate pressure on McGill outside of the bargaining table through various creative actions. These actions involve organising a strike vote the week of March 11.

McGill’s Counter Offer

Nearly two months after AGSEM shared their demands, McGill presented their counter-offer at their tenth session of negotiations for the new TA Collective Agreement, including a concession on payment and a proposal on Article 16, which covers leaves.

“An offer like McGill’s amounts to a pay cut in the first year, and almost certainly pay cuts in subsequent years,” AGSEM expressed in an email to the Daily. McGill offered a 1.25 per cent increase in the first year of the contract, and a 1 per cent raise in subsequent years which, as AGSEM pointed out, amounts to a pay cut in terms of real wages. McGill justified their offer on wages in the claim that it was a relevant wage for the Quebec market and an appeal to “pay equity” as other McGill employees are paid relatively low amounts compared to TAs. In addition, AGSEM was also told to choose between wages and healthcare. AGSEM told the Daily that they felt these were not serious offers and expected that McGill would return with a more pressing proposal at the next session.

The TAs also do not have appetite for McGill’s unwillingness, as McKay told the Daily. “McGill is trying to get by on the most minimal amount of educational support that it can offer,” they argued.

They concluded that, “We as teaching professionals want there to be quality education. It is McGill as an employer, as an administrative institution, that is not putting resources towards that.

As the TA Assembly mandated a strike vote on the week of March 11, McGill offered a few possible dates for the next sessions of negotiations. Nevertheless, there is still hope for both sides to reach an agreement. According to AGSEM, McGill told the union that their offer is not final and that there exists more room within their mandate to negotiate.