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Bargaining Newsletter #7: Progress on hiring lists; resistance on protections from harassment

Tues 5 December 2023

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

On the 5th of December, AGSEM met with the employer for the 7th negotiation session for a new collective agreement for Teaching Assistants. Starting bright and early at 9 am, AGSEM’s bargaining committee (Nick Vieira, PhD candidate in physics, Dallas Jokic, PhD candidate in philosophy, and Nada El Baba, PhD candidate in biology) was joined by Sébastien Boivert, AGSEM’s CSN-FNEEQ negotiations advisor. The bargaining team was accompanied by several union members, some of whom were in the room while others joined remotely via Zoom.

The session began with a return to our discussion of hiring lists. While this is a fine-grained and somewhat administrative discussion, it’s important for both sides. As it currently stands, AGSEM receives a tentative hiring list before offers are made to TAs. The aim of this list is to confirm that the hiring practices outlined in the Collective Agreement are respected. Later in the semester, the union is sent a final hiring list which indicates which TAs were actually hired (rather than who had received a job offer). The collective agreement specifies the content of both lists as well as the timeline for when they must be sent and approved.

We have spent a lot of time at the negotiation table streamlining this system to the benefit of both parties. Our concerns include the timely notification of accurate hiring information, and the employer would like to have a system that reduces administrative burden on local departments. Under the new system we have negotiated, the content of the tentative list would be slightly expanded to include more information on applicants who received job offers. The final hiring list would be replaced by a centralized hiring report that is faster and easier for McGill HR to generate. The timelines for both the tentative list and final report were adjusted to ensure that both sides are able to give the time and care that fair hiring practices require. These improvements to the system would lessen the administrative burden for both the employer and the union. In these discussions, the bargaining committee has also emphasized the importance of allowing members to use their chosen name when applying for jobs, and ensuring chosen names are communicated to the union. During this last session, we got closer than ever to an agreement on a new system for transmitting hiring information, and we are hoping to finalize the details during our next session.

While McGill said there wasn’t much room for negotiation on the remaining non-monetary proposals, AGSEM insisted on identifying the precise disagreements between both sides with the hope it could help us to to find room to work through them. We discussed our proposal to ensure that the Provost meets with the Union at the beginning of both Fall and Winter terms. As things stand in the current collective agreement, union representatives are entitled to call such a meeting scheduled at the beginning of the Fall semester. Unfortunately, this meeting often happens much later than requested; for example, this year the union had to file a grievance to meet with the Provost. 

It is important for McGill TAs to be able to discuss working conditions and communicate pressing issues related to the university at large, seeing that we represent a significant portion of the McGill community. It is also paramount that these meetings happen in a timely manner, namely during the first 30 days of the Fall and Winter terms. McGill reiterated their unwillingness to budge on this issue, but we maintain that it is a reasonable request. 

We also discussed our proposal to protect graduate students from being prohibited or discouraged from taking on TA jobs from their departments of study, TA hiring units, or academic supervisors. In previous meetings, McGill had been resistant to this proposal but were more open to discussing it during the last session. They may bring a counter-offer to the table when we reconvene.

Other outstanding issues where both parties are far apart are related to Article 6 (the article of the collective agreement related to Harassment, Discrimination, and Sexual Violence). We have been discussing Article 6 over multiple sessions (November 22 & November 28). This time, we had more time to discuss our proposal to protect TAs against retaliation for filing grievances related to these matters and ensure their right to discontinue contact with an alleged harasser. Here, McGill again fluctuated between arguing that these demands were redundant, that is, already implied in the university’s policies on the matter, and that they were overreaching. McGill seemingly wishes to reserve the assumed right to retaliate against any claims of harassment/discrimination they would deem unfounded. While the points of disagreement became clearer during the last session, we found ourselves no closer to an agreement. 

Negotiations on Article 6 have become increasingly difficult as the employer refuses to see how the problems experienced by our members can be addressed by our proposals Instead, the employer has taken the opportunity in our discussions of harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence to assert a right to retaliate against its employees who assert their own rights to a safe workplace. We expect more from McGill, which prides itself as a top employer in Montreal.

We requested an eighth session to conclude negotiations for the Fall term and were able to schedule one for December 18th. 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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