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Bargaining Newsletter #13: McGill’s latest offer well below inflation and demands of TAs

McGill’s latest counterproposal leaves TAs no closer to a deal

Monday February 26, 2024

AGSEM TA Bargaining Committee and regular members attending the negotiation session.

On Monday, February 26th, AGSEM and McGill met once again for another session of negotiations of a new Collective Agreement (CA) for Teaching Assistants (TAs). AGSEM’s Bargaining Committee (Nada El Baba, Dallas Jokic, and Nick Vieira) and TA Bargaining Advisor (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.

These last few sessions have required some difficult conversations. At our session on Tuesday, February 13th, AGSEM identified the priorities of its members on monetary items: (1) protecting real wages against past and future inflation, (2) catching up to the wages of top U15 schools, (3) introducing healthcare, and (4) preventing the situation where undergrad enrolment rises or stays the same while TA hours are cut. AGSEM appreciated that, at this meeting, McGill made it clear that they could address at least one of these items: protecting wages from inflation. This was a welcome sign after what had been a substantial impasse in previous sessions. Recognizing this newfound willingness to negotiate, on Tuesday, February 20th, AGSEM came prepared with a global counter proposal addressing items in both our non-monetary and monetary demands and discarding items of lower priority. Our formal counter proposal on February 20th made our position clear: AGSEM has some flexibility on where our wages will land, depending on the robustness of McGill’s offer on other items of priority. McGill expressed some disappointment that AGSEM’s global proposal had not dropped some of our other priorities, but we clarified that we were exercising as much flexibility as our mandate allowed and the discussion was nonetheless fruitful. The parties discussed how we might administer healthcare funds, which AGSEM elaborated on in their new counter proposal. We also discussed in earnest and in detail the importance of indexation of TA hours. McGill agreed to come to the following meeting with a proposal of their own. 

AGSEM has made it clear to McGill that our members expect an offer that takes seriously the core priorities of our mandate on wages, healthcare, indexing TA hours to undergraduate enrolment, and protecting TAs from harassment. We’ve also been up front that we have a mandate from our members to have a strike vote by the week of March 11th. If McGill is serious about avoiding a strike, it seems past time for a substantive offer. We went into this week’s meeting with a hope that McGill would put an offer on the table that addresses at least some of these priorities. 

In light of this, McGill’s proposal on February 26th was a major disappointment. McGill’s original offer from a few weeks ago included nothing on healthcare, nothing on cost-of-living adjustments, nothing on indexation of TA hours, and a 1.25% raise in the first year, followed by 1% in subsequent years. McGill’s offer on February 26th? Nearly identical. Nothing on healthcare, nothing on cost-of-living adjustments, and nothing on indexation of TA hours. McGill’s offer on wages: 2.25% in the first year, followed by 1.25% in subsequent years. This offer does not suggest that the employer is taking TAs’ demands, nor their timeline for negotiations, seriously. With a strike vote on the horizon, it is extremely disappointing that McGill is not ready to put some serious numbers, at the very least, on the table.

We made our position clear: setting our disappointment on not seeing other items of priority in McGill’s proposal aside, 2.25% does not address inflation. Not even close. At previous sessions, McGill identified our priority of protecting wages from inflation as something they could address. McGill argued on February 26th that while their new proposal might not match inflation, it does address it. But as we’ve highlighted before, Montreal’s inflation averaged at 5.9% and peaked at 7.1% over the 2022-2023 academic year. Further, it averaged at 6.7% and peaked at 7.6% in the 2022 calendar year. It averaged at 5.1% and peaked at 6.6% in 2023. The last time Montreal’s inflation was anywhere near 2.25% was 3 years ago, in March 2021. McGill’s new proposal would mean that TAs continue to have their purchasing power and their ability to make ends meet reduced as their contract goes on. It means food banks, foregoing healthcare, and a lower standard of education at McGill. 

What’s worse, McGill’s proposal on wages is lower than what was negotiated at the signing of our last Collective Agreement. It is, by that definition, sub-standard. It is also lower than what was agreed upon in the recent Front Commun negotiations, where the parties came to an agreement on how to address rampant inflation. In a time of mass strikes and strong labour organizing, including in Québec, the standards of what constitutes a good deal are higher than ever. 

McGill justified their offer by describing the financial structure of McGill. They described the decline in government funding for universities and the comparatively lower university funding in Quebec compared to other Canadian institutions. We agree that government underfunding of universities is a major problem, and the reliance on rising tuition (especially for international students) as well as donations, has had a negative impact on education. However, TAs represent a small segment of McGill’s operating budget, only around $13 million dollars a year, despite delivering a huge amount of the education to students. McGill has the money to invest in education and ensure TAs are not struggling to get by. While we agree that the government should better fund universities, McGill has both the ability and the responsibility to fund education, and a fair TA contract is part of that.

This offer of a mere increase from the 1.25% we were proposed a few weeks ago, to 2.25%, comes as TAs may vote on whether to strike in less than two weeks. Between now and then, we had originally only scheduled one more negotiation session before a potential vote to strike. At AGSEM’s insistence, two more meetings have been scheduled. AGSEM has made every effort, and has had the required difficult conversations, to try and find a deal. From AGSEM’s perspective, McGill is evidently not showing the same willingness. 

Shortly after this last session, McGill requested a conciliator for negotiations. When two parties in negotiation are in a deadlock, either party can call for the intervention of the Secrétariat du travail to help in mediation. Reaching this stage is common in collective bargaining; AGSEM and McGill went to conciliation during negotiations of our last CA, too. Conciliation allows both parties to step back and look at the global picture, not only the issues that triggered the deadlock. The intervention of a third party mediator may also open up different perspectives and avenues to move forward. 

During the week of March 11th, TAs may vote to go on strike. Because we are still bargaining, TAs will still have the final say about any proposal we receive from McGill. 

Your Bargaining Committee will do all it can to find a deal. While the two parties search for a conciliator, we have scheduled negotiations sessions on:

  • Monday, March 4th at 12 pm, 

  • Tuesday, March 5th at 12 pm.

We sincerely hope McGill comes to these sessions ready to do the work required to find a deal. Want to attend negotiations? Sign up to join us, in person or online, here

Finally, as we’ve said before, we win what we are willing to fight for and it will take all hands on deck to win the life-changing contract we need and deserve. Interested in making sure we win? Sign up for training to become an AGSEM organizer here

United we bargain, divided we beg! 

Love and solidarity, 

Your Bargaining and Bargaining Support Committees


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