We're heading into negotiations with McGill this Fall!! This means your union, AGSEM, and representatives from McGill will meet each other to negotiate the terms of our TA Collective Agreement. Our Collective Agreement (CA) is the contract governing the working conditions and rights of all graduate TAs at McGill.
At this time of unprecedented inflation and the worsening cost-of-living crisis, stagnated internal and external graduate stipends, and the widespread and continued violation of our labour rights by McGill we need an ambitious mandate, a strong bargaining committee, and the involvement of all Teaching Assistants to win a fair TA contract!
Our eventful TA Assembly on April 27 led to the ratification of a strong bargaining mandate, the election of a new Bargaining Committee, the creation and election of a Bargaining Support Committee, and the adoption of a militant bargaining mobilization strategy. This assembly was a crucial step as the union prepares to negotiate our TA Collective Agreement, which is expiring in July 2023.
Do keep in mind that what we negotiate for and what will eventually become the new TA Collective Agreement is in the hands of all of us as a collective and will be the result of a majority vote at a TA assembly like this one!
As always, the meeting was held in a hybrid format, which allowed for robust participation from both our downtown and Macdonald campuses.
Pillars for a Strong Bargaining Mobilization Strategy
Present at the assembly was Alex Pelchat, our Mobilization Advisor from the Conseil central de Montréal métropolitain-Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CCMM-CSN). He addressed the assembly about the importance of collective action and participation by all TAs in the bargaining process in order to win our demands. Advising for a quick escalation of tactics, Alex stressed our union committees would have to collaborate closely with one another to ensure rank-and-file TAs are educated about the issues and active in the bargaining process.
Dovetailing with Alex’s recommendations, members of the Mobilization-Communications committee gave a presentation and proposal for how to organize our union’s committees to support negotiations. Developed by Chief Delegate of Mobilization Emma McKay, Mobilization Officer Kiersten van Vliet, Biology Delegate Kim Gruver, and President Mario Roy, this proposal included establishing a Bargaining Support Committee (BSC). This mobilization plan was adopted unanimously by the assembly.
The BSC is composed of liasons of existing AGSEM committees and working groups as well as members-at-large with the task of supporting the TA Bargaining Committee in negotiations with research, writing, and any other support determined to be necessary. Elections for the BSC were held later in the assembly.
Visualization of the upcoming bargaining structure approved by the assembly
Recommendations from the Pre-Bargaining Committee
Following the bargaining mobilization motion, the TA pre-Bargaining Committee gave a presentation and recommendations for the bargaining mandate based on their research since May 2022. The pre-Bargaining Committee, composed of Karan Kumar, Praveen Bhoopathi, and Dana Jafarpour, collected feedback from TAs with a survey and researched the working conditions of other TAs in Canada. From this work, the pre-BC determined seven priorities to address in this round of negotiations:
Improving the the fairness of the priority pool
Indexation of TA hours to undergraduate enrolment to prevent overwork
Health insurance for TAs
Addressing how academic Letters of Understanding may interfere with graduate students applying for or accepting TA positions
Protecting TAs from sexual harassment in the workplace
Improving our union’s representation in structures of university governance that affect our working conditions
Establishing the Bargaining Mandate
After the TA pre-Bargaining Committee took questions on their recommendations, the assembly broke into facilitated small groups for 45 minutes to discuss their proposal. In small groups, attendees gave their impressions of the proposal, making suggestions for the modification, addition, or subtraction of priorities, as well as suggestions to adjust the ranking of priorities. Upon returning to the full assembly, the following additions were made to the proposal:
A mechanism in the Collective Agreement to ensure TAs are able to provide accommodations to students by facilitating relevant information from Student Accessibility and Achievement to TAs
Additional training for faculty and course lecturers about the contents of our Collective Agreement to prevent violations of our rights
Indemnity or pay for transit time for TAs who work off campus
Ensure all teaching expenses are covered by the Collective Agreement
Address how TA work is being outsourced to non-unionized positions such as graders, tutors, etc.
With the additions adopted, the assembly decided on prioritization of the different elements of the mandate. After some discussion, the revised bargaining mandate was adopted with 98% in favour.
BC and BSC Elections!
The final item on the agenda was electing a TA Bargaining Committee and Bargaining Support Committee. Following impassioned speeches, Dallas Jokic (PhD in Philosophy), Nada El Baba (PhD in Biology), and Nick Vieira (PhD in Physics) were elected by secret ballot to the Bargaining Committee. (It was determined that at least one member would make McGill “pee their little pants” in the upcoming nego.)
Self-nominating as members-at-large for the BSC were Loïc Nassif (PhD in Computer Science), Sebastian Wittekindt (PhD in Biology), Lucas Marques (PhD in Pharmacology), Nadia González Domínguez (MSc in Public Health), Cal Koger-Pease (PhD in Experimental Medicine), and Donnie Morard (PhD in History). All were unanimously approved in their positions.
Congratulations to everyone elected to a committee! A hearty thank you to our outgoing pre-Bargaining Committee committee of Karan, Praveen, and Dana for your hard work this past year!
Next Steps: Draft a proposal, deposit with McGill, begin negotiations!
This summer, the Bargaining Committee is tasked with interpreting the mandate that was adopted at our April 27 assembly. This involved additional research, writing contract language for the initial bargaining proposal, and developing a strategy to win these demands. Their work is directly supported by the Funding and Cost-of-Living Working Group, Queer Working Group, Equity & Diversity Committee, and Bargaining Support Committee. These committees and working groups are also liaising with the Mobilization Committee to develop a bargaining mobilization plan, tactics, and materials to support negotiations.
McGill has since been notified of our intent to enter into negotiations by the first day of classes on August 30. We are awaiting confirmation of the exact date and time. At the first meeting of our Bargaining Committee and McGill’s negotiation team, both sides will present and exchange initial proposals of changes they wish to make to the Collective Agreement. Following this meeting, both sides will set a schedule of negotiations, including the order in which the articles of the CA will be negotiated. Typically, negotiations begin with “easier” or less contentious items and progress through “harder” proposals where finding an agreement between the two parties is anticipated to be more difficult. Finally, monetary elements like wages will be negotiated, along with any retroactive raises. Until the new Collective Agreement is signed by both parties, the existing CA is “frozen” in place—including our wages!
Once negotiations begin, the Bargaining Committee will return to members through General Assemblies and Delegates' Council meetings to review progress and mandates. All mandates are approved by a GA or the DC, and any big developments in bargaining—such as a tentative agreement between the parties or an impasse—results in the President calling a Special TA Assembly. At a Special TA Assembly, members will vote on whether to accept or reject any agreements made in negotiations, as well as on escalation of mobilization tactics. Any assemblies will be announced via email and posted on the AGSEM website.
As always, full reports from the assembly can be consulted by AGSEM members upon request to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to get in contact with your Bargaining Committee, you can email them anytime at bargainingchairTA@agsem-aeedem.ca.