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Bargaining Newsletter #10: A pay cut is NOT a serious offer

Friday Feb 2, 2024

Group of McGill graduate students in negotiations
AGSEM TA Bargaining Committee and regular members attending the negotiation session.

On Friday February 2nd, 2024, AGSEM met with McGill for the tenth session of negotiations for the new TA Collective Agreement. This was the second session in which monetary elements of the negotiations process were discussed since we submitted our monetary proposal on December 18th of last year.  

AGSEM’s Bargaining Committee (Nada El Baba, Dallas Jokic, and Nick Vieira) and TA Grievance Officer (Jean-Philip Mathieu) were joined by union advisor Sébastien Boisvert from affiliate Fédération nationale des enseignantes et des enseignants du Québec (FNEEQ) of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN). They were also joined by a number of rank-and-file members from across the university, both in person and on Zoom.

The session started with McGill finally presenting their counter-offer to AGSEM’s monetary proposal after an almost 2-month wait. As a reminder, McGill TAs have asked for:

  1. A 40% wage increase to make our wage competitive with what other top universities across the country offer their TAs;

  2. A cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) clause to protect TAs from inflation;

  3. A million dollars a year in the form of three healthcare funds, to supplement existing gaps in insurance coverage for all TAs, including international and transgender TAs, and, 

  4. Indexing TA hours to student enrollment so that there are enough TAs for every class to run smoothly and TAs never work over their contracted hours. 

McGill maintains their positions on work hour indexation and COLA, which they expressed at the last session: (1) They have “no standards” by which they can index hours  to class enrollment and have no interest in establishing such standards, and, (2) Their priority is to protect their own finances, as the employer, against inflation.

On our request for healthcare subsidies, McGill argued that our demand was unreasonably high, as it would constitute a 10% increase in the university’s budget for TAs. McGill seems to think that requesting a million dollars in healthcare subsidies from an employer who steals a million dollars in TA wages every year (read about it in The Tribune and The Daily) is unreasonable. We made it clear that McGill TAs are asking for what already exists for TAs at other Canadian universities such as York, Carleton and University of Toronto. McGill’s answer was that they will not increase the TA budget to provide both a raise and healthcare subsidies. What’s more, McGill explicitly asked AGSEM to choose between negotiating a raise or healthcare for TAs, but not both

Finally, McGill gave us their wage offer...which is a pay cut.

McGill put down a whopping 1.25% wage increase for the first year (that’s a $0.41 increase), followed by 1% in each subsequent year. This was not the only surprise, as McGill also asked to sign a 5 year contract—one year longer than the usual contract length for TAs. Indeed, McGill is proposing to lock TAs into 5 years of effective pay cuts.

McGill’s justification for why the offer is so much lower than what our members are asked for was “pay equity”. They alleged that other unionized workers across campus make relatively low wages and that it would be inequitable for them to grant one group of workers a living wage.

AGSEM affirmed that our members have mandated us to negotiate a pay raise. We will not consider a pay cut as a serious offer upon which we can negotiate wages. At the other end of the table, we were met with multiple claims that this is in fact a serious offer from the employer. To add salt to the wound, McGill asked TAs to set their priorities straight and choose one of the 4 main items of the monetary proposal to negotiate. They have no interest in budging on more than one.

McGill TAs are frustrated. They have been frustrated with the stalling of monetary negotiations on the employer’s end and have mandated AGSEM to hold a strike vote by mid-March, should McGill not put a fair offer on the table. TAs who attended the negotiations session on the February 2nd expressed even deeper frustrations upon hearing McGill’s offer and called it insulting.

Since we gave McGill our monetary offer, scheduling sessions for negotiations with McGill has been difficult. When we gave them many dates that worked for our side from late January to early March, McGill only confirmed 3—one of which they cancelled at the last minute.  At the table, we informed McGill that our members had mandated us to hold a strike vote, which seemed to free up McGill’s schedule—they offered us three dates in the room. Here’s hoping this good luck leads McGill to giving us a serious offer!

After our last session we asked: When will McGill get serious? This time, we told McGill that our members are done waiting for a deal, and have given us a clear timeline to get one. McGill works because we do, and it's past time our contract reflected that.

It’s clear we have to continue to take these negotiations into our own hands to win a fair contract. There are many ways to get involved and fight for the cause with your fellow TAs! If you’re interested in joining us in the bargaining room, we’d love to have you. Fill out this form and we’ll let you know when you can be part of negotiations. 

United we bargain, divided we beg! 

Love and solidarity, 

Your Bargaining and Bargaining Support Committees


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