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Bargaining Newsletter #6: Specific Forms of Harassment on the Job - Not a Problem Worth Solving?

Tues 28 November 2023

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

On Tuesday, November 28nd, TAs held their sixth session of negotiations for a new Collective Agreement with McGill.

In the room on AGSEM’s side were, once again, the three members of the Bargaining Committee (Nada El Baba, Dallas Jokic, and Nick Vieira) and AGSEM’s TA Grievance Officer (Jean-Philip Mathieu). They were joined by the union advisor Sébastien Boisvert from our affiliate, the Fédération nationale des enseignantes et des enseignants du Québec (FNEEQ) of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN). As always, we were joined by members from across the university both in person and virtually, including a number attending negotiations for the first time.

The session began with a discussion of AGSEM’s latest proposal on Articles 12 and 13, a synthesis of suggestions and ideas from both McGill and AGSEM to develop a better, more efficient hiring process for Teaching Assistants. The two parties had a fine-grained and productive discussion on how to set relevant dates in the hiring process, and how to develop tentative and final hiring lists that give AGSEM the information we need while minimizing the administrative burden for the employer and the union. After hashing out these details (with the help of a white board) we got closer to a system that could harmonize all the dates and ensure hiring can happen smoothly and efficiently. While we fell short of reaching agreement on this, AGSEM was encouraged by McGill’s willingness to take a problem solving approach to this issue, and are hopeful that we will be able to reach an agreement on the relevant articles soon.

We then resumed discussion on Article 6, the article protecting Teaching Assistants against harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence. McGill demonstrated, once again, their unwillingness to make changes that respond to the needs of our members. McGill’s side enumerated the many committees and policies at the University meant to address these issues and cast doubt on whether AGSEM’s proposed changes added anything useful. They reiterated their position that they will not accept any changes to Article 6 that diverge from McGill’s Policy Against Sexual Violence, nor Policy On Harassment and Discrimination.

AGSEM has proposed changes that would name as harassment specific forms of mistreatment frequently reported by TAs. According to McGill, the definitions of harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence from the policies (which are also written in the Collective Agreement) already implicitly consider sexually-oriented remarks that could reasonably be perceived to create a negative work environment to be sexual violence. Moreover, in their view, the refusal to use a member’s chosen name or pronouns and insulting, demeaning, or patronising comments already constitute harassment. As for AGSEM’s proposed changes to ensure TAs are protected against retaliation for filing a grievance and enshrining the right to discontinue or limit contact with an alleged abuser in the workplace, McGill was similarly inflexible.

McGill’s willingness to engage in problem solving when it comes to hiring lists stood in sharp contrast to their intransigence when it comes to improving protections against sexual violence, harassment, and discrimination. It is clear that the McGill side thinks that the University policies and other programs already cover all cases, and McGill seems unmoved to hear that AGSEM members persistently report issues like the ones we raised slipping through the cracks. As we have said before, TAs are experts on our own working conditions: if our members have consistently identified these problems on the job, both parties have an obligation to take these problems seriously at the bargaining table. We hope McGill will take a more collaborative, problem-solving approach to this issue in the sessions to come.

Anna, a member from Civil Engineering who attended negotiations, noted McGill’s dismissal of demands from members:

“If McGill truly believes in the effectiveness of their harassment, discrimination, sexual violence policy, then they shouldn't have a problem with including the language that AGSEM has proposed. Clearly their current policies/resources are not working since our membership has expressed a need for including specific examples of violations in our CA. These protections are an urgent need and we cannot wait for the next time that a review on the university policy comes around. The fact that they are not willing to agree to this language in the CA shows that they do not truly respect our right to a safe workplace.”

Other topics in our non-monetary proposals remain up for discussion, including meetings with the academic provost in a timely manner and disallowing professors from discouraging or prohibiting students from applying for TA positions. Near the end of the session, McGill suggested that we move on to exchanging and discussing our monetary demands soon. We look forward to seeing McGill’s monetary demands and hope they have prepared a proposal that responds to the cost-of-living crisis and properly values the work TAs do to keep the university running. McGill works because we do!

We have another day of negotiations scheduled for next Tuesday, December 5th. At the table, we raised the possibility of setting another session before the Winter break, but such a session has yet to be scheduled. Either way, we’ll be back at the table in January. Want to attend a future session of negotiations, in-person or remotely? Please fill out this form to indicate on which dates you’re available and which topics interest you, and we’ll keep in touch.

United we bargain, divided we beg!

Love and solidarity,

Your Bargaining and Bargaining Support Committees


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