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Bargaining Newsletter #17: A Tentative Agreement is reached! Will we accept it? You decide!

Monday 15 April 2024


Content warning: this newsletter describes AGSEM’s negotiations with McGill around policies on harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence.


In the evening of Monday April 15th, 2024, after eight months of negotiations for a new contract, AGSEM and McGill reached a Tentative Agreement. Whether this Tentative Agreement will be ratified and become the new Collective Agreement is entirely in the hands of TAs. 


This coming Thursday, April 18th at 5pm we will be holding a Ratification Assembly, open to all who have held a TA position in the last 12 months, at which the Bargaining Committee will present the tentative agreement and members will decide whether to accept it or not. While we will go into more detail then, we did want to share an overview of what is in this tentative agreement.


Before getting to what we tentatively agreed upon in the latest session, it is worth taking a moment to remind ourselves of some of our earlier wins during this round of negotiations. 


Negotiations began on September 21st, 2023. In the Fall semester, we came to an agreement on a number of non-monetary items. The new Tentative Agreement would:


  • Expand the number of Union/University representatives who can attend the monthly Labour Relations Committee meetings between the Union and the University;

  • Shorten the time in which grievances must be responded to by McGill administrators from 30 days to 21 days;

  • Improve the reliability and scope of hiring lists sent to the Union by the University and prevents the deadnaming of TAs in these lists;

  • Clarify that the right to refuse unsafe work extends to mental (rather than exclusively physical) safety;

  • Ensure that it is a requirement to hold a midterm review of the Workload Form;

  • Extend the priority pool to five years (from four) for PhD students;

  • Ensure that TAs have the necessary information to provide accommodations to their students who are granted such accommodations by the University;

  • Accept the University’s demand to include record of violations of Policy Against Sexual Violence in an employee’s file indefinitely.


We presented our first monetary proposal on December 18th, 2023, and began negotiations in the Winter term. We entered conciliation with the employer on March 1st, and TAs went on strike on March 25th. On April 15th, 2024—after three weeks of striking—we came to a tentative agreement on both monetary and non-monetary items. The following includes items negotiated at all 2024 sessions except the most recent. The Tentative Agreement:


  • Include more expansive language in Article 6, which covers harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence. All the text of these additions comes from McGill’s existing Policy On Harassment & Discrimination and Policy Against Sexual Violence, and it includes:

  • a preamble describing intersecting forms of discrimination;

  • a definition of consent;

  • a guarantee that members will not be retaliated against for filing grievances or complaints in cases of harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence, and;

  • a list of measures available to workers in cases of harassment or sexual violence.

  • Introduce a new subarticle 12.05 clarifying that “All graduate students are able to apply for any Teaching Assistant position”

  • Improve the existing Workload Form to be more detailed, easier to complete, and require an honest breakdown of how much time TAs should spend on each evaluation in the case of grading, and; 

  • Increase union liberations (amounts paid by the University to the Union) from the equivalent of six (6) 180 hour positions to nine (9) 180 hour positions, and guarantee more liberations for negotiations in cases where the process extends beyond one year.


At Monday’s session, we addressed the final issues left on the table. After months of discussion on the problem of reducing TA hours, we came to an agreement with McGill on language to guarantee transparency in the University’s allocation of the Teaching Support Budget and TA hours and provide avenues for TAs to give feedback on that allocation. We tentatively agreed to:

  • A meeting, held once a year, open to the Union Executive Committee and up to 25 union delegates, where members of the administration such as the Provost, Vice President Academic, and Executive Director of Analysis, Planning, and Budget. At this meeting, they would present important information about the Teaching Support Budget, such as the allocated budgets to each Faculty, and provide any justifications for reducing the budget with respect to undergraduate enrollment in Faculties where this occurs. 

  • Including the issue of reducing TA hours and TA workloads as a regular part of scheduled Labour Relations Committee (LRC) meetings. As previously mentioned, we agreed last term that future LRC meetings would be open to more members/representatives from the Union/University. Furthermore, a Working Group of the University and Union would be established, with the ability to collect information about the allocation of TA hours in specific Hiring Units. (Hiring units are generally responsible for hiring in one department—for example, in the Faculty of Science, there are hiring units for Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and other departments.) By the end of the collective agreement, the Working Group will have the ability to make recommendations to the Provost and Executive Vice President on the allocation of TA hours and teaching support budgets. 


While these items would fall short of our initial demand to index TA hours to undergraduate enrolment, they force the University to give us real transparency on how these budgets are determined (which TAs haves repeatedly asked for, and not received) and provide channels for TAs to give feedback and raise concerns if it appears that TA hours are in fact being reduced.


The issue of indexing TA hours and reduction of teaching support budgets and TA hours is one that AGSEM has been fighting to address for over a decade, as have most other unions of TAs. This first step would be a significant victory and would not have been possible without TAs’ strike.


To protect the rights of transgender TAs, we also agreed that the Employer would consider adding language explicitly prohibiting deadnaming and misgendering in the upcoming (2024-2025) review of the Policy on Harassment and Discrimination.


Finally, wages. McGill TAs currently make $33.03 per hour. AGSEM and McGill have tentatively agreed to:

  • $34.85 as of August 1, 2023 (a 5.5% increase);

  • $35.20 as of February 1, 2024 (a 1% increase);

  • $36.25 as of August 1, 2024 (3%);

  • $37.34 as of August 1, 2025 (3%), and;

  • $38.46 as of August 1, 2026 (3%).


Additively, this is a total of 15.5% over four years, from August 1, 2023 to July 31, 2027 (when this Collective Agreement would expire). Compounded, this is a total raise of 16.4% over four years.


The raise over the 2023-2024 academic year is split into two increments. But, in effect, the new hourly rate until August 1st, 2024, at $35.20, would be 6.57% higher than the 2022-2023 rate of $33.03.  


Members will receive retroactive pay for hours worked during the 2023-2024 academic year within 90 days of ratification of the Collective Agreement.


These would be considerable improvements to our work conditions. However, there are some key areas in which we were not able to come to an agreement. On wages, we did not catch up to the wages of other top schools in Canada. Nor were we able to secure a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to protect against future inflation. We were unable to make any gains in providing any of the three healthcare funds we initially proposed; a general fund, an international students fund, and a gender affirmation fund for transgender Union members. While the employer assured us that gender affirmation leave is already implicitly covered by the policies on medical leave, we were not able to agree on language to enshrine the right to gender affirmation leave. There were other elements of our mandate around trainings, travel indemnities, and university governance on which we were unable to reach an agreement. At Thursday’s assembly we will give an overview of how the tentative agreement compares with the bargaining mandate we were given on April 27th, 2023 (amended at a number of assemblies in the past year).


We also negotiated a back-to-work protocol, an agreement of how TAs will return to their jobs and other conditions for ending the strike. Here are the key elements!

 

Back to work:

  • The strike will end as soon as the Tentative Agreement is adopted in a General Assembly;

  • Except for employees whose contract is over, McGill will restore employees’ access to the employer’s portal (@mcgill.ca email, etc.);

  • Except for employees whose contracts have ended (that is, worked all of their hours), all TAs will return to work, and;

  • All employees who held a position in another bargaining unit at McGill will be recalled to work in those other positions, unless their employment in those positions has ended.

 

Workload Form / TA hours :

  • Within five (5) days of the ratification of the agreement (5 days of the Ratification Assembly), employees and course supervisors shall hold a meeting in accordance with article 11.02.03 of the Collective Agreement to adjust the Workload Form;

  • The number of hours stipulated in the contract will be adjusted accordingly on the Workload Form (including addition of hours if more is needed, or removing tasks if they are not possible), and;

  • TAs must go back to work and accomplish their duties.

 

Hours worked before the strike which have not yet been paid:

  • Hours included in the workload form that were worked before the strike but were not renumerated will be compensated;

  • Within 10 days after the end of the strike, the Union will provide the employer a list of employees for whom hours worked were not compensated. Please help us compile this list, and ensure you will get paid for every hour you worked before the strike, by filling out this form;

  • Within 10 days of receiving this list, the Employer will confirm the amounts to be paid;

  • The amounts will be paid within 30 days of this confirmation;

  • Employees not on the list can also submit their claim to the employer within 180 days after the end of the strike, and;

  • The Employer will inform all employees of this procedure via a mass email. 


It is crucial that TAs fill out this form to receive pay for every hour you worked before the strike.

 

Retroactive pay for the 2023-2024 academic year :

  • New rates will be adjusted within 30 days of ratification of the Collective Agreement;

  • Payment of salary retroactivity will be made to all employees within 90 days of ratification of the Collective Agreement;

 

Legal details :

  • McGill will cancel their injunction (500-17-129509-249) against picketing activities on campus. McGill waives its application and will not seek the renewal of the injunction. The notice will be sent within 10 days of the end of the strike;

  • AGSEM must withdraw the complaint under Article 109.1 of the Labor Code, filed on March 27th, 2024 (CM-1361413);

  • The employer undertakes not to implement new disciplinary, administrative or academic measures related to the exercise of pressure tactics or strike or an event directly or indirectly related to the settlement of the Collective Agreement;


 

A note from your Mobilization Officer


On Thursday, we will decide together whether to accept this tentative agreement or to recommit ourselves to the strike. 


We’ll have time to talk as a whole unit about what path we will take and to process the big and varied emotions that come with evaluating a deal after being on strike for weeks. You might feel relieved that the strike could soon be over. You might be frustrated that we didn’t get a better deal. There are real reasons for both, and all of these emotions deserve time to process. 


This is a big moment for all of us. I don’t want to pretend that it’s an inevitable upward process from here, that this strike has created a power which cannot be stopped. But I know I don’t have to pretend with TAs. You know, now, that organizing takes work. AGSEM has won as much as we have in this tentative agreement because we have been working our asses off organizing on campus. We have been talking to each other, coordinating strategies, picketing, cooking, and so so much more for years leading up to this. 


Whatever we did not win is not a sign of failure. It is what remains for us to work towards, with and for each other, with all the tactics we have been practicing, whether for the past few weeks or the past many years. 


A deal is not an end. It is the beginning of the union era at McGill. 


Love and solidarity, and looking forward to seeing you on Thursday,

 

Your AGSEM Bargaining and Executive Committees

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