Unionization Drive for McGill's Teaching Support
The Association for Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) is now campaigning to unionize Teaching Support workers at McGill University.
If you work as a grader, marker, tutor, note-taker, or any non-unionized academic casual job on campus, join us to help give you and the rest of the campus community the benefits of:
Protections for medical, maternal, and paternal leave
Institutional support against hiring discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, race, and disability;
Protection of basic labour rights
Access to grievance procedures
Increased visibility of work opportunities on Campus
Union life activities and community
Signing a membership form is a completely confidential process.
For over fifteen years, AGSEM has had a longstanding mandate to unionize graders and other non-unionized academic support workers at McGill. This group of employees includes, but is not limited to, markers, graders, tutors, note-takers, demonstrators, facilitators, mentors, course assistants, student assistants, academic casuals, placement exam administrators, as well as all those working as teaching assistants who nonetheless remain unrepresented by academic labour unions.
While McGill University’s graduate teaching assistants and invigilators benefit from all of the protections afforded by a union, hundreds of other workers at McGill are doing similar—or even identical work—without any of the same protections or benefits. We believe that teaching support workers at McGill should receive the same benefits and protections of unionized teaching assistants and invigilators, and that the absence of these benefits and protections presents many serious threats to the protection of all teaching labour at McGill.
At McGill, quality education depends upon the labour provided by a group of workers that aid student learning. Historically, this work was done by Teaching Assistants. Graduate TAs have been protected since 1993 by a Collective Agreement between AGSEM and McGill University.
However, in recent years, there has been an increasing number of non-unionized teaching support jobs at McGill with names that are intended to circumvent existing union contracts on campus. Often the student workers in these positions—both undergraduate and graduate—fulfill an essential role in the delivery of education without a fair wage, workplace protections, or benefits.
What was once a rare exception to the rule threatens to become the rule itself, undermining both the quality of the labour afforded to workers in their delivery of post-secondary education, as well as the quality of that education itself. McGill is actively creating more precarious workers on campus while numerous reports have shown that reliance on precarious work is corroding academic institutions from the inside out.
Note-takers with the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) were once compensated for their labour with an honorarium of $425 per semester for four courses. As of Fall 2019, note-takers are rewarded with community service hours on their co-curricular CVs and the opportunity to win a gift card. With a union, note-takers would be compensated by the hour, and their wage would be negotiated collectively with their employer.
Graders across campus are compensated as low as minimum wage ($12.50 /hour), with no guaranteed protections for overwork. Some graders are required by their programs to work for free if they do not have external funding. With a union, the lowest-paid graders could negotiate for a yearly pay increase above inflation, while higher-earners would be grandfathered into the contract and not experience a pay cut. With a union, we can fight for everyone to get compensated fairly for their labour.
Course assistants, student assistants, and graders are often essentially performing the same tasks as Teaching Assistants, for as low as minimum wage ($12.50 /hour) instead of the TA wage ($29.33 /hour, as of 2018). Departments at McGill have created these positions to side-step the protections granted to Graduate Teaching Assistants. This has had the benefit of opening up academic casual positions for undergraduate student workers, but these workers have been left without adequate labour protections and the right to collectively negotiate for better contracts. With a union, we can protect the value of undergraduate labour with not only a fair wage, but transparent hiring practices, seniority, training, access to office space and teaching resources, and protections against harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence in the workplace.
The good news is that AGSEM is now engaged in a comprehensive effort to unionize teaching support labour at McGill University. With a bargaining unit, graders, note-takers, tutors, course assistants and all other academic casuals can bargain collectively for better working conditions. Join the student labour movement today—all it takes is two minutes of your time, and $2.00.
The Benefits of Joining AGSEM
What you get immediately when you sign
You become an AGSEM member, with all of the rights enjoyed by other members, as soon as you sign a membership form and pay your $2.00 in dues. This process is completely confidential: we will never reveal your name to anyone, or contact the University on your behalf.
This means that you can attend General Assemblies, vote and participate in decisions, join committees and working groups (such as the Unionization Committee, the Equity Committee, the Mobilization Committee, and the External Affairs Committee) and stand for election as a union officer.
While only graduate TAs and invigilators are protected by a Collective Agreement, other members are still protected by a number of laws, including the Québec Labour Standards Act, which addresses things such as minimum wage, pay frequency, working hours, and a number of other rights. AGSEM members can contact a Grievance Officer, and we will do everything we can to make sure your rights are respected at work—whether or not you are covered by a Collective Agreement.
We can make sure that you know your rights, give information about how to address any problems, and walk you through the process of doing it. This process is completely confidential, and what we actually do is up to you. We will never reveal your name to anyone, or contact the University on your behalf, without your consent. Read more about Grievances.
While all workers in Québec are covered by basic laws respecting labour standards, in order to make real improvements in working conditions for teaching support workers at McGill we need a Collective Agreement. We will be able to get a Collective Agreement if we can demonstrate to the Québec Ministry of Labour that we represent a majority of teaching support workers at McGill. This will allow us to negotiate for things like higher pay, job posting rules, fair hiring practices, leaves, benefits, and more. It would also allow us to formalize the grievance process in order to more effectively address any violations of your rights.
Collective Bargaining: What we win is up to you
AGSEM’s bargaining priorities are set by the members affected by that bargaining. TA bargaining priorities are set by AGSEM members at TA unit assemblies. Invigilator bargaining priorities are decided by AGSEM members at the Invigilator unit assemblies. Bargaining Committees don’t make decisions based on what they’d personally like to see; they negotiate what members have told them to negotiate.
Once the bargaining priorities are set, our ability to make gains is dependent on our ability to mobilize and put pressure on the employer. If we’re organized, we can win.
Case Study: Invigilators at McGill
Invigilators at McGill were accredited as a union in March 2010, after a successful vote (94%) in favour of unionizing. We signed our first collective agreement on October 7, 2013. AGSEM Unit 2 is the Union of Invigilators at McGill University.
AGSEM has a proven track record of improving working conditions for its members.
Recent data suggests a strong correlation between AGSEM membership and better working conditions. For example, a recent survey of Invigilator Compensation from 2014 - 2019 shows an average annual growth rate 26.93% higher than the growth of minimum wage in Quebec.
How does Certification work? (The legal stuff)
In order for teaching support workers at McGill to become unionized in a collective bargaining unit, three things have to happen:
An application representing them must be filed through a certified association of employees (Quebec Labour Code C-27.s.25);
They must be understood by the provincial government to be a distinct group of employees; (2009 QCCRT 0527; December 02/2009);
35% of all teaching support workers must belong to the certified association representing them in the first place (Quebec Labour Code C-27.s.28.b.); this triggers an election where the majority (50% + 1) of the workers must vote in favour of unionization.
Alternatively, if a judge rules that the majority (50% + 1) of the group of workers belong to the union when filing for certification, the bargaining unit is formed without an additional election.
Because AGSEM is a certified association of employees (#1), and because a 2009 Québec Ministry of Labour ruling established that teaching support casuals (graders, note-takers, etc.) are a distinct group of employees at McGill (#2), the only condition remaining to be met today is #3.
Q: What is a labour union?
A: A labour union is an organization of employees who work together to improve their working conditions. A union can be accredited to represent some group of employees (recognized the government as their official union representative), in which case it negotiates a Collective Agreement that acts as the shared work contract for all of the employees it represents. However, many organizations that operate like labour unions are not accredited, including MAUT and MUNASA at McGill.
Q: Why join a labour union?
The benefits of unionization can include better pay; clear and fair job posting and hiring rules; access to teaching resources like training, office space, and equipment; and in general, more say about how work is organized. But what we win is ultimately up to you!
Q: What is a unionization drive?
A Unionization Drive is the way that a union becomes accredited to represent some group of workers. The union collects membership forms from those workers, and if it can prove to the government that a majority of them support that union, it becomes accredited. Once a union is accredited, it can negotiate a Collective Agreement which applies to the entire group.
AGSEM is currently campaigning to become the accredited representative of teaching support workers at McGill.
Q: Who is able to join? Do I have to do anything other than signing a card/filling out a form?
A: You can sign a union card if:
You are a current or recent paid employee of McGill University, and;
You work in a job related to teaching, and;
You are not a manager or a supervisor of other employees, and you are not a course supervisor, and;
Your job is not currently unionized (Research Assistants, for example, are already unionized).
Examples of common jobs that fall under these criteria include markers and graders, tutors, and course assistants. More information about who can sign.
Q: What are the benefits of unionization?
The benefits of unionization depend on what union members want, and what they are able to fight for. AGSEM members determine AGSEM’s bargaining priorities, and members working together put the necessary pressure on the employer to reach a deal.
However, some things are quite likely: the normal working conditions for similar jobs in Québec universities set something close to a minimum standard, which would mean a pay raise for many positions; and some things like standardized posting and hiring rules can be relatively easy to negotiate.
Perhaps most importantly, unions guarantee that someone has your back at work. If you have a problem—if you don’t get paid for a shift, if you have a conflict with your supervisor, if you believe you have been treated unfairly—we will be there to protect you. As soon as you become a member by signing a union card, we will be able to help you figure out your options if you have a problem; however, we will only be able to negotiate a Collective Agreement that makes things better for everyone if and when the Unionization Drive is successful.
Q: I heard that AGSEM has prevented undergraduate students from working as TAs. Is this true?
A: No. AGSEM’s Collective Agreement for Graduate Teaching Assistants defines a “Teaching Assistant” as a currently registered McGill graduate student. This is the contract our members have voted for, and it establishes rules we are required to enforce. However, we are aware that many Undergraduate students at McGill do similar or even identical work to that done by Graduate TAs, and we don’t think it makes any sense for them not to be union members. We think Undergraduate students doing teaching support work at McGill should be entitled to the same protections and benefits of unionization as those which benefit Graduate students doing the same jobs, and we welcome Undergraduate students to join AGSEM.
When AGSEM was founded in 1992, virtually all teaching support work at McGill was performed by Graduate students, and in 1993 we became accredited to represent “Graduate Teaching Assistants,” as it was felt that jobs filled by Undergraduates and non-students were sufficiently dissimilar for them to be included in the same bargaining unit. This made it legally impossible to include Undergraduate students in the TA Collective Agreement—unions can only bargain on behalf of those they are accredited to represent, and it would be totally undemocratic for AGSEM to bargain on behalf of Undergraduate students who had never requested to become members. This exclusion of Undergraduates from the Collective Agreement had a second consequence: were McGill to violate the Collective Agreement and hire Undergraduate students as Teaching Assistants, it would not be bound to respect the terms in the Collective Agreement and could, for example, pay them considerably less money.
However, that’s not the only reason that the current TA Collective Agreement requires TAs to be Graduate students. Graduate students’ experience and qualifications mean that they are normally the best candidates for jobs; but teaching work is also an important part of the professional training for a large proportion of Graduate students who will use those skills directly in their future careers. That said, we are aware that there are a number of situations where Undergraduate students are actually the only qualified candidates for a given position, and we think it is extremely important that anyone doing teaching support work at McGill be represented by a union.
Who can sign a card?
Q: I no longer work for McGill or my contract ends soon. Can I join?
A: The short answer is yes, especially if you stopped working very recently, or expect to continue working at McGill in the future.
When we submit our request for union recognition, the Québec labour board will verify whether or not we represent a majority of employees in the bargaining unit. These lists include those recent employees considered “likely to return”, even if they did not work on the day the request was filed. If you only stopped working recently, there is a good chance the Commission des Relations du Travail (CRT) will ask if we have your card.
Q: I work as a tutor for a student association (eg. EUS). Can I join?
A: No. Our current campaign is aimed at McGill employees only. It is not currently possible under Québec law to sign one collective agreement that affects several employers, and McGill’s student associations are legally independent entities from the university itself. If you're not sure who your employer is, check your pay stubs! However, while we are not currently extending membership to non-McGill employees, we would still be interested to hear from you at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I am a member of AMUSE or AMURE. Can I join?
A: Maybe. If you work more than one job at McGill, it is possible that one or more of them are unionized, while the other(s) are not; nothing prevents you from being a member of two unions simultaneously if you hold two different jobs.
If you only work one job at McGill and are already represented by another union, you are not currently eligible to become an AGSEM member.
Q: I work as an independent contractor/am self-employed. Can I join?
A: Maybe. Québec labour law provides for a category of “autonomous workers” who are not considered employees of a given employer for the purpose of unionization. However, very few McGill employees actually fall under this category, even if you work from home and even if you work on a short-term contract. The legal status concerning autonomy can occasionally be a bit complex to determine; the general rule however is that if you receive a pay cheque from McGill, you count as a McGill employee.
We strongly suggest that if you would like to become an AGSEM member but think you may be considered “self-employed,” you should sign a card anyway.
Contact the Unionization Drive Committee
AGSEM’s Unionization Drive Committee was elected in March 2019 to develop a strategy to unionize teaching support workers. If you have any comments, suggestions, or concerns about any part of the unionization drive, feel free to contact the U-Drive Committee Chair in the form below.
Join the Unionization Drive Committee
If you would like to get involved with mobilizing for the Drive, drop us a line below as well! All AGSEM Committee positions are compensated with an honorarium or $29.33 an hour.