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Bargaining Newsletter #14: Conciliation has begun with a strike vote less than a week away

A new chapter in bargaining with a strike vote a week away

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for bargaining! 

As mentioned in our last newsletter, after our session on February 26th, McGill filed for conciliation. Conciliation began last Friday, March 1st, and we had additional sessions on Monday March 4th and Tuesday March 5th. Conciliation is a process where the negotiations are facilitated by conciliators, who are employees of the Ministry of Labour. Unlike typical negotiations, wherein ground rules are determined by the negotiating parties, conciliators set the terms of the discussion. Conciliators cannot impose a deal unilaterally but they can make a recommendation of what they think “the deal” is. They can also try different methods to bring the parties closer together, including meeting with the parties separately. What we say to the conciliator in those meetings is highly confidential—they cannot tell the employer the content of our discussions, but they can use what we tell them to try and bring the parties closer together.

We have been assigned two conciliators for our negotiations. AGSEM explained to the conciliators that we have an open bargaining mandate. In general, they have allowed us to continue open bargaining, but there are parts of negotiations where they have imposed restrictions on our communications. Also, due to Bill 96, which requires all government services to be in French, the conciliation process has involved more French than earlier parts of the bargaining process. 

The conciliators have spent time with both parties, trying to get a better sense of their priorities, their flexibility, and their hard lines. AGSEM made clear our commitment to key priorities around strengthening protection against harassment and discrimination, recovering from and protecting against inflation, having supplementary healthcare funds, and indexing TA hours to undergraduate enrolment. While stressing the importance of these elements of our mandate, AGSEM indicated our flexibility on what their inclusion looks like. We have made it clear that if the employer is willing to take these priorities seriously, we are willing to shift some details of our initial mandate. Negotiations involve finding common ground, and AGSEM has indicated where we think that common ground is.

On Tuesday, the conciliators suggested a “working hypothesis,” a suggestion of where they think a deal might be, which is meant to try and bring the parties closer together. Such a hypothesis is non-binding and, if it does not seem like a workable solution to both parties, it is taken off the table. The conciliators also emphasized that this hypothesis cannot be communicated away from the table. This hypothesis led to some interesting discussions between our side and the conciliator, as well as between us and McGill. It seemed as though we might be close to a deal! But, in the end, we were unable to reach one.

Based on our discussions at conciliation, we believe that McGill has everything they need to offer us a deal we could recommend to our members. We have been upfront about our priorities and flexibility and hope that McGill is willing to do what they need to in order to get a deal. So far, McGill has not shown that they are willing to do what it takes to reach a deal, and with a strike vote happening next week, we hope that they start to take negotiations more seriously. A deal seems in many ways on the horizon, but McGill knows that their offer of nothing on healthcare or indexation, and a meager 2.25% wage increase in the first year, with 1.25% in subsequent years, will be the offer we bring to the members at our strike vote. We have left the door open for them to make a more credible offer before our first strike vote assembly on March 13th, and have indicated that we will be ready to meet with them whenever they are ready. If it takes negotiating over the weekend or into the early hours of the morning, we are ready to do what it takes. 

Barring movement from McGill, despite our best efforts to make ourselves available, we don’t have any more dates booked before the first strike vote assembly. It is more important than ever to have a strong majority of AGSEM members to turn out for the strike vote. McGill has, so far, not seemed serious about finding a deal, we need to show them that we are. 

We are holding three strike vote assemblies in order to ensure that all members can participate. The first will be on Wednesday March 13th at 6pm at Centre Mont Royal (2200 Rue Mansfield, near the downtown campus). This meeting will include deciding the details of the motions we’ll be voting on and then voting on them. As such, it is likely to be longer than the other two assemblies. The second is on Thursday March 14th at 2pm at Mac Campus (MS-022), and the third will be on Saturday March 16th at 2pm at Centre Mont Royal. All strike vote assemblies will be hybrid, so you can attend virtually or in person, and there will be dinner/lunch for those who come in person. You can RSVP for these assemblies here.

Our next two sessions of bargaining will be on Thursday March 14th at 9am, and Tuesday March 19th (time TBD), with the latter being held at the Ministry of Labour. 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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