AGSEM Newsletter - January 2022

Previous Newsletter



Follow us on: Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!


During the last few weeks, the union has received several emails from members who expressed concerns about coming back on campus, due the sanitary conditions. In response to this, the union put together a press release included below, which has been shared with you recently, to voice these general concerns we received, as the safety of all our members has been one of our top priorities since the beginning of the pandemic. It is the employers’ responsibility to make it safe and our main demand to the university is to make sure that all members are safe and have the right to choose whether or not they want to work in-person or remotely, when possible. Please note that our communications aim to reflect general member feedback and we acknowledge that it may not always be that of every member. Ultimately, we want to make sure accommodations are given to all of you, when needed, so if you feel that you are not receiving the appropriate accommodations or if you have any other request, please contact us at grievance.1@agsem-aeedem.ca.

Press release sent by AGSEM on January 18th, 2022

AGSEM is strongly concerned about McGill's decision to return to in-person activities

MONTRÉAL, Jan. 18, 2022 - AGSEM, the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill, is strongly concerned about McGill University's decision to return to in-person activities on January 24th 2022, at least one week earlier than Concordia, Université de Montréal, or UQAM. We are asking the university to reconsider its decision.

After fluctuating for almost two years, COVID-19 cases have reached new peaks in Quebec and all over the world. On December 22nd and on multiple occasions in the past weeks–including during a meeting with McGill’s Principal Suzanne Fortier on January 6th–AGSEM strongly cautioned the university that mandating the return to in-person teaching too quickly would put teaching assistants and other members of the McGill community at a high risk of contracting the virus. The university refuses to listen to our recommendations. Since McGill is already prepared to deliver most courses remotely, AGSEM requests, once again, that the university opt for a precautionary approach by keeping teaching activities at fully or partially remote mode of delivery until sanitary conditions improve.

Furthermore, for the safety of our members and the whole McGill community, teaching assistants should be given a choice to perform their tasks remotely if they feel safer doing so, wherever possible. We understand that the organization of remote teaching activities can be challenging for many of our members. Nevertheless, the constant need for adjustments resulting from moving–or the anticipation of moving–between different learning environments poses even bigger challenges for teaching assistants. This is especially the case given that many of our members already experience discomfort and anxiety in response to the high risk of COVID-19 contagion.

In addition, we asked the university to provide N95 masks instead of surgical masks to those who would feel safer wearing them, and especially to those who work closely with students, for example in a laboratory setting. The university continues to refuse to provide these masks even though our members have requested them multiple times in the past. According to the AGSEM Collective Agreement, it is the employer’s responsibility to provide safety equipment.

Quote from one of our members worried about coming back in person:

"I'm disappointed and angry that the university would attempt this change so much sooner than is necessary. Of course online learning is isolating---so is being in a pandemic. The biggest threat to mental health from Covid is from illness, death, disability, and observing people in positions of power continue to make decisions which put people in danger. I'm seeing the hospitals in Montréal continue to strain and break and it's hard to believe that having classes in person will not exacerbate this."

Our members have expressed their concerns to us in the recent weeks. Many of them do not feel safe coming back to campus, especially without additional protective equipment and mitigation measures, while the current sanitary conditions persist and knowing that McGill university will not do any contact tracing in Winter 2022. They do not feel heard and demand that the university take these concerns seriously.

The AGSEM Executive Committee

Right to refuse unsafe work

As stated in article 15.02.05 of the TA Collective Agreement, you have the right to refuse unsafe work.

“An Employee has the right to refuse to perform a task if the Employee has reasonable grounds to believe that the performance of the task would endanger the Employee’s health, safety or physical well-being, or would expose another person to a similar danger (...)”

If you have concerns about work safety as a TA, please contact us directly at grievance.1@agsem-aeedem.ca.

PGSS N95 Mask Program

PGSS has now set up a N95 mask distribution program for its members on a pay-what-you-can basis. Reservation is required. Find out more information here.

Just started your first job as a Teaching Assistant?

Make sure you know your rights!

Find out more about the TA Collective Agreement in FAQ formand our tips for improving your TA experience here

Did you miss the first-time TA training session at your department? You can view the orientation presentation here

AGSEM introduces online membership forms for Teaching Assistants and Invigilators

We are happy to announce that starting December 2021, AGSEM members can fill out their membership forms online. You can fill out your form here.

While we encourage everyone to use the new online system, please be assured that we still accept paper membership forms (sent to our office at 3641 rue University, suite 207), as well as the PDF format sent to us via email.

We want to make sure that you are well represented!

At the General Assembly on January 27, 2021, the members of the Conseil Central du Montréal Métropolitain–CSN (CCMM–CSN) affiliated unions (including AGSEM) adopted an action plan against racism. One of the objectives of the action plan is to ensure the representation of people from racialized, immigrant, and indigenous groups within the structures and bodies of the member unions in an equal proportion to their presence in the labour market.

In this context, the CCMM–CSN wants to produce a portrait (or mapping) of the situation in its affiliated unions (including AGSEM). Your participation in the survey is therefore very important.

Please fill out the anonymous survey prepared by the CCMM-CSN in English or in French to help the implementation of the action plan.

Thank you in advance for your participation. This study is quintessential to help the CCMM-CSN understand the current situation.

Invigilators

Negotiation Update:

As of November 25, 2021, the Invigilator Bargaining Committee and the Employer have met fifteen times since the start of negotiations in March. We have reached agreements in principle on Articles 1-4, 6, 8-10, 16, 17, aside from a few discussions that have been suspended until monetary negotiations (at the end of negotiations). We will start negotiations on Article 15, Probationary Period in the new year. A more detailed description of the course of negotiations is available in past editions of the AGSEM monthly newsletter, and a description of the Bargaining Committee’s mandate is available on the AGSEM website. We have outlined several important developments in negotiations below.

The Employer and the Union remain very far apart on the issue of discipline. One of the principal demands of the employer is to increase the time an invigilator must respect in order to cancel a shift to 3 business days from 2 hours in 9.08. The Union recognizes that so-called “no shows” are a significant issue for the working conditions of the invigilators who do show up to work, but has emphasised that the Employer’s punitive demand will not solve this issue. In Winter 2020, the Union signed a letter of agreement with the Office for Students with Disabilities to increase the time an invigilator must respect in order to cancel a shift to 12:00pm noon the business day before a scheduled shift. Before the semester was interrupted by the pandemic, there were labour shortages in the Hiring Unit as a result of this Letter of Agreement and invigilators were bringing concerns to the Union about the punitive application of this agreement.

The Union raised these concerns in the negotiations and the Employer assured us that they would take this into account. The Employer returned to the table with the same proposal that did not address any of the Union’s concerns. Given the current distance between the two parties on interpretation, the Union proposed delaying further discussion on 9.08 until we receive the Employer’s monetary offer at the end of the non-monetary negotiations. The Union remains open to finding proactive solutions to the issue of no-shows.

A significant mandate for the union in Article 9 was establishing a fair disciplinary process with progressive steps of disciplinary action. Again, the Employer and the Union were far apart on the interpretation of the steps of progressive discipline. The Employer does not acknowledge verbal warning as a measure of discipline, while the Union does. Still, we partially achieved our mandate by adding verbal warning as a measure that may be taken by a Supervisor before initiating a disciplinary action.

The Union and the Employer are also far apart on the issue of Health and Safety. McGill is not willing to establish a committee to discuss the specific health and safety needs of Invigilators. Despite evidence to the contrary provided by the Union, the Employer maintains that their current measures to maintain cleanliness in the working environment as well as the protocols to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are sufficient. Unable to sway the Employer on the issue, the Union decided to withdraw our proposal to create a committee and change tactics for addressing the issues of health and safety more directly. If you experience or have experienced unsanitary or unsafe working conditions this final exam session, please take a photo of the situation (if possible) and contact the Grievance Officer at grievance.2@agsem-aeedem.ca. Do not take photos of any confidential material or other people without their consent.

As soon as there are any major developments during the negotiation process—that is, an agreement in principle reached between the two parties, or an impasse in the negotiations—the AGSEM Executive Committee will call a Unit 2 Assembly. The decision whether or not to accept an Employer’s final offer and adopt that text as the new Invigilator Collective Agreement is subject to a democratic vote at a Unit Assembly.

Invigilator Delegates

If you have worked as an Invigilator at any point between now and Winter 2019, you are likely eligible to become an AGSEM Invigilator Delegate. TA and Invigilator Delegates meet once a month as the Delegates’ Council and represent their Hiring Units to establish priorities for the Union. Invigilator representation is especially important now that we are in collective negotiations. Invigilator Delegates are compensated with a $125 honorarium to attend at least two Delegate Council meetings per semester. If you are interested in becoming an Invigilator Delegate, please contact mobilization@agsem-aeedem.ca.

Are you a current TA or Invigilator delegate? Fill out the info form by January 31st at 5PM

If you are already an active AGSEM Delegate for 2021-2022 by having been elected (voted in at a DC or GA) or appointed (by your GSA/Department) as Delegate, please fill out this information form by Monday, January 31st, 2022 at 5PM.

This form is intended to update our lists with current information and for you to confirm that you are an active delegate to verify your status. ONLY active AGSEM Delegates are required to fill in this form by the indicated deadline.

*If you are not an active delegate this year or have not been appointed as a delegate, please disregard this form.

Do you want to become a delegate?

We are currently looking for AGSEM members who would like to get involved in the union! You can contact Antonia at mobilization@agsem-aeedem.ca and become a delegate for your department; as TA or invigilator. You will be able to participate in union activities and help your colleagues know their right in their work at McGill. Many delegate positions are opening in the next few months. Do not hesitate to send us an email!

Workday Update

**The most recent major update about Workday can be found here, and we have a new website about Workday concerns here.**

We continue to follow up with McGill Human Resources to try to resolve the ongoing issues with Workday around late pay and more. In Mid-December, before the holiday, we sent another press release that has been covered on several platforms: Workday Means More Work (and No Pay) for TAs at McGill which have been covered on Cision, Business insider or Ground news. Then, on March 2nd 2021, we sent an open letter to Principal Fortier requesting for changes Following this letter, we met with her and Vice-Principal Beauchamps to explain our concerns about the lack of support for employees using Workday. The issues with payroll largely stem from the hiring process. We know that AGSEM members may have spent a long time working on solutions to Workday-related issues on their own. Please keep in mind that payroll and employee management is an employer’s responsibility, and that if you are spending time trying to sort Workday issues, this should be reflected in your Workload form.

Our Response: Grievances and Labour Relations

AGSEM has filed several collective grievances against McGill for the violation of your labour rights, including late pay and mailed cheques. Considering the little process, we recently filed for arbitration on those grievances for late pay. We have followed up recently with more information for everyone who has been named on a grievance, if information was available. We are additionally following up with HR in our Labour Relations Committee about all issues that are negatively impacting AGSEM members, and continuing to fight for a fair settlement for everyone affected.

AGSEM's claim includes financial compensation for members. For those whose pay was late, a $50 flat fee per payroll period and interest of 1.24% charged monthly on the entirety of each unpaid TA’s contract until the pay is issued. For those paid by cheque, an additional $50 flat fee. The standard AGSEM used for this claim is the late fees and interest that McGill charges its own students on overdue balances for fees and tuition. So, once members receive the wages that are due to them, the union will focus on securing this compensation for everyone who was paid late, and/or by cheque. Last month, the union received an offer from McGill that proposed to compensate all members affected by late pay with a proposed settlement of a $40 flat fee with $20 for any additional pay period. An update will be sent soon.

According to the TA Collective Agreement, our members must be paid within 30 days of starting work. We have requested a list of members who were issued a cheque (violation of our Collective Agreement) and a list of members who did not get paid yet (also a violation of our Collective Agreement). AGSEM is therefore requesting an audit from McGill to make sure that all employees have received their total pay since the Workday system has been implemented at McGill which McGill refuses to do. Until all the issues in Workday are solved, AGSEM is requesting a task force that includes representatives from employee groups, power users and associations at McGill, as well as members of McGill's R2R team who work on system upgrades. We need to solve all the issues, minor and major, in a systematic way: small fixes are not sustainable.

If you’re facing Workday issues, please email grievance.1@agsem-aeedem.ca right away!

Update on Udrive campaign

On April 30, 2020, the Unionization team submitted a request for accreditation to McGill with the help of the CSN to represent all academic casuals (Unit 3) at the Tribunal administratif du Travail (TAT). This process is still active and we are hopeful of a positive outcome.

The delays are explained by the fact that the list of people subject to accreditation submitted by the employer (McGill University) was, in our opinion, inadequate and incomplete. Following several discussions with the TAT judge on the filing, as well as with employer representatives, we submitted a new list on February 25, 2021 with our comments and remarks. Names were added, based on those we have collected membership cards from, and others were removed based on their position not representing that of what the team deemed to be appropriate Unit 3. In November, we received another response from McGill on which we made some progress but still do not agree on the response. We will keep you updated!

Please email us at udrive@agsem-aeedem.ca if you have any comments or questions.

Recent Solidarity Initiatives

  • AGSEM stands in solidarity with the UCU (Univeristy and College Union) in their fight for better working conditions for academic workers across the United Kingdom.

As of Dec 1, 2021, as many as 58 universities were preparing to go on strike in December after university representatives refused to withdraw pension cuts or address falling pay and worsening working conditions. Click here to read more.

  • Please sign the petition to support action against the REM de l’Est project in Montreal

Concerned about the negative effects for the neighbourhoods crossed by the aboveground REM de l'Est train line, the Collectif en environnement Mercier-Est is calling the government to "immediately suspend all work on the REM de l'Est, including its design,” "mandate the Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM) to conduct an analysis of public transit needs in the east of Montreal,” and "hold a public consultation with citizens on the conclusions of this analysis and the examination of possible alternatives for implementing a mode of public transit adapted to a densely populated urban environment."(translation source)

Previous Solidarity Initiatives

  • AGSEM stands in solidarity with the trans, non-binary and intersex communities against the proposed changes in the Quebec Civil Code introduced in Bill 2 (An Act respecting family law reform with regard to filiation and amending the Civil Code of Québec in relation to personality rights and civil status).

On November 17, 2021, AGSEM’s Executive Council approved a motion to send a letter voicing our concerns with regards to Bill 2 to Mr André Bachand, the Chair of the Committee on Institution at the National Assembly of Quebec.

Please read the letter sent by the AGSEM president under this link.

Working Group Update

On November 9th, 2021, the AGSEM Graduate Funding Working Group organized a talk by Mr. Bipin Kumar from the University of New Brunswick Graduate Student Association. He presented on 'Comprehensive Comparison on Graduate Funding patterns in Canada - 2020-21'. Bipin, who is an active advocate for fair graduate student and labor policies, informed union members about current graduate funding patterns and issues across Canadian Universities.

If you have any ideas for the International student, Mental health, and Graduate funding working groups, feel free to reach out to macdonald.officer@agsem-aeedem.ca.

Mobilization Update

Invigilator Mobilization Campaign – Fall 2021 Final Exams

Dear invigilators, thank you for coming to chat with us at the mobilization table during the final exams at the Tomlinson Fieldhouse! We worked closely with the International Bargaining Committee to put together a mobilization strategy so we can best connect with you during exams period. We will be working hard this semester to coordinate a similar strategy for Winter 2022 examinations and look forward to seeing you at our table then!

For updates on Invigilator Bargaining, see the “Invigilators” section of this Newsletter.

“Unions. What do they give us?”

Using archival material and interviews with renowned labor activists, sociologists and historians, the documentary "Les unions, qu'ossa donne?" revisits the major struggles led by the CTCC (CSN - Confédération des syndicats nationaux) from its founding in 1921 to the present day. You can now watch the 2021 documentary "Les unions, qu'ossa donne?" about the history of trade unionizing in Quebec here for free (French only).

Image: savoir.media

Mobilization Committee

The Mobilization committee is actively working on developing related Information Campaigns and initiatives focused around the following union priorities:

  1. Progress of the Invigilator Bargaining Committee

  2. Workday Issues

  3. Solidarity Motions of Support

More to come on Social Media, so please make sure to follow AGSEM on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to stay up to date on ongoing initiative announcements!

If you would like to join the Mobilization committee or for any Mobilization related questions, please contact the Mobilization Officer at mobilization@agsem-aeedem.ca

AGSEM Presentations and Guides

Did you know that we have a website dedicated to our guides, info-sheets, graphics, and more? We even have an AGSEM 101 Guide! Check it out here.

If you have any questions, concerns, or comments, please contact us at mail@agsem-aeedem.ca.

In Solidarity,

Your Executive, Bargaining, and Unionization Drive Committees