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Bargaining Newsletter #15: McGill has the power to avert a strike—will they?

Tuesday 19 March, 2024

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

It has been two weeks since AGSEM and McGill last met for negotiations—and what an eventful two weeks it has been! 

During the week of March 11th, teaching assistants (TAs) held a strike vote over three assemblies. A strike mandate gives the union the power to call a strike at any time based on the progress of negotiations. And the results of those votes were clear: TAs showed up in record-shattering numbers and voted 87.5% in favour of a  strike mandate. 

Long-time readers will recall that we gave McGill our first monetary proposal on December 18th. They did not have a counter-offer of any shape or form when we next met a month later, on January 16th. Frustrated, TAs held an assembly on January 30th where they voted to have the aforementioned strike vote assemblies and set a deadline for McGill. This clearly moved the employer—they finally had a monetary proposal for us when we next met on February 2nd. This first offer was of course the now-infamous offer of a 1.25% raise in the first year, followed by 1% in subsequent years, nothing on healthcare, nothing on Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA), and nothing on indexation of TA hours to undergraduate enrolment. It took the threat of a strike vote to get something—an insufficient something, but something—out of McGill. 

We continued to meet with them, once or twice per week, in the coming weeks. We indicated as much flexibility as possible and highlighted items of priority. In spite of this, the best McGill could do was their second unserious offer: 2.25% in the first year, followed by 1.25% in subsequent years, nothing on healthcare, nothing on COLA, and nothing on indexation of TA hours to undergraduate enrolment. The employer requested conciliation shortly thereafter, and we had three sessions of conciliation before our strike votes. At the very last session, which ran for six hours on March 5th, we were close to a deal which might have averted a strike. But McGill refused to reach an agreement with us, and so we held our assemblies. 

Again, the results of those strike vote assemblies were exceedingly clear: TAs showed up in record-shattering numbers and voted 87.5% in favour of giving the union the power to call a strike at any time.

We next met with McGill on March 19th, for an all day-session at the office of the Ministère de travail, for our first session post-vote. Evidently, the real threat of a strike moved McGill. They initially presented an offer of raises of 3.5%, 2%, 2%, and 1.75% in each of the four years of the contract. We made it clear that while we still have lots of flexibility, we have less flexibility than we did pre-vote. And we will have less flexibility if we begin a strike. McGill then presented an offer of 4.25%, 2.25%, 2%, and 2%. But perhaps most notably, they offered for the first time to address the problem of TA hours being cut while enrolment rises or stays the same. They offered to ensure that indexation of TA hours is on the agenda of the Labour Relations Committee (LRC), a committee of union and employer representatives which meets roughly monthly. While we were grateful to see this movement on indexation, we do not view the LRC as the appropriate venue. Our members need language on indexation which has more teeth and can actually affect change and address our working conditions, and a willingness to discuss it in the LRC, while a step in the direction, is not enough.

It’s clear what moves McGill. The threat of a strike vote brought their first monetary proposal to the table after almost six weeks of patience from AGSEM. The threat of a strike encouraged them to almost double their total wage offer, and, for the first time, put something related to indexation on the table.  

We heard from TAs, loud and clear, at our strike vote assemblies. We know what TAs need to see in a deal. After receiving the 87.5%-in-favour strike mandate from TAs, we cannot settle for 4.25, 2.25, 2, 2, and a weak form of indexation. TAs have made it clear that they deserve more, and are ready to fight for it.

After starting bright and early at 9h and enduring until almost 17h, we made it clear that we would be willing to stay past midnight if that’s what it would take. We were willing to give the employer all the time they needed to make a stronger offer and avert a strike, and invited them to make the necessary phone calls, do the required calculations, and have the important discussions. We made it as clear as possible what kind of deal could now avert the strike. But with a strike on the horizon, we heard from the lead negotiator of McGill that they were not sure they could reach the relevant parties on the phone and they were at the limit of what they could offer us. With a strike on the horizon, with AGSEM more than ready to continue negotiating into the night, McGill was unwilling to budge. Apparently, McGill higher ups do not think being available for a phone call to avoid a strike is a priority. The third-party conciliators determined that we should end for the day, after about 8 hours of negotiations.

McGill has the power to avert a strike—will they? If they don’t, what will TAs do next to show McGill that we are worth our demands and will no longer tolerate the undervaluing of our essential labour?

TAs should keep an eye out for more communications from the union on the potential start date of a strike.

No more sessions are currently planned—McGill does not seem serious about averting a strike, but we are eagerly awaiting any news from them and are expecting a phone call sometime soon. If we do plan any more sessions, members are welcome to attend as part of open bargaining, which remains in effect during conciliation. Should a strike begin, negotiations are not put on pause. AGSEM will be at the negotiations table as much as is needed to get the deal TAs deserve. Sign up to join us, in person or online, here! We will do our best to accommodate you and welcome you into the room as negotiations evolve.

United we bargain, divided we beg! 

Love and solidarity, 

Your Bargaining and Bargaining Support Committees


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