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Bargaining Newsletter #8: New Year, New Wage

Mon 18 December 2023

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

This past semester, AGSEM’s TA negotiations ended with a bang! We resolved an important article about hiring lists, made progress on other contentious articles, and finally presented our monetary proposal!

On December 18th, we met with the employer for the 8th negotiation session for a new collective agreement for Teaching Assistants. AGSEM’s Bargaining Committee (Nada El Baba, Dallas Jokic, and Nick Vieira) and TA Grievance Officer (Jean-Philip Mathieu) 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). The bargaining team was accompanied by several union members, some in the room and others via Zoom. One kind soul even brought sandwiches! 

After four sessions, AGSEM and McGill have finally signed on articles 12 and 13, which cover postings/applications and selection & appointment, respectively. Crafting these articles required a lot of back-and-forth and collaboration—sometimes with the use of a whiteboard—to develop a system which works for TAs, departmental administrators, and human resources. The new system harmonizes the posting of TA positions, application deadline, release of tentative hiring lists, hiring, and release of final lists to be defined with respect to a single point in time. Furthermore, the new contract language enshrines the right of applicants to use their preferred names in applying for TA positions, and requires the use of preferred names in both tentative and final hiring lists. This new change is crucial to ensuring our members are not deadnamed at any point over the course of their employment. 

We also made progress on article 6, which covers harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence. In 6.02, our proposal aims to protect TAs from facing retaliation for reporting and to allow them to discontinue contact with harassers. McGill has recently shown some willingness to add language to the CA from the Policy on Harassment and Discrimination (specifically, on “immediate measures”) to address TAs’ concerns about retaliation. AGSEM is grateful for McGill’s willingness to problem solve, but their counter offer falls short of solving some of the problems we have a mandate to address. We will continue to revisit article 6 in future sessions. 

By far the most exciting update is that AGSEM finally presented our monetary proposal to McGill. To date, we have only negotiated non-monetary items. We are transitioning to monetary after the quick progress we made this past semester. 

Our monetary demands follow several months of research to address TAs’ material conditions in the current cost-of-living crisis. We deserve what we are asking for, and these changes will be transformative for graduate employees at McGill. 

Among other things, we are asking for:

  • A substantial wage increase. We are demanding an increase for TAs to make our pay competitive with several other universities with which McGill often compares itself (e.g., University of Toronto, Queen’s, McMaster, Carleton), where TAs make between $40 and $50 per hour compared to our $33.03. We are also demanding the introduction of a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) increase in years where inflation exceeds 3%. 

  • Three distinct healthcare funds, amounting to about a million dollars per year: (1) a general employee healthcare fund, (2) a fund to address international TAs’ particular needs, and (3) a fund for gender-affirming care for transgender TAs.  

These demands are not only necessary, they are possible. Our wage demand is the average of a dozen other institutions in Canada with which McGill wants to remain competitive and often compares itself. Our demand for a COLA comes after the past two years of rampant inflation. If McGill wants to remain competitive with other universities they must prioritize the quality of education. TAs are essential to providing this high-quality education; McGill works because we do. Further, TAs at McGill are among the few TAs in Canada who do not receive healthcare through their employment. Gender-affirming care in particular exists at York and McMaster, and at dozens of universities in the United States. 

When we pressed McGill for a monetary proposal from their side—any sort of offer on wages—they were unable to give us a number. All we wanted for Christmas was their monetary proposal, and they couldn’t share one!! McGill is now undergoing a costing exercise after receiving our proposal. We look forward to beginning negotiations of our monetary proposal shortly!

Our first semester of bargaining not only involved making substantive improvements to multiple elements of our CA (and signing 9 revised articles), but AGSEM brought an unprecedented number of rank and file members into the negotiation room. On the first day of negotiations, McGill pushed back against five additional members in the room. But we upheld our mandate and continued to include members in negotiations. After our first meeting, the employer tried to backtrack on a hybrid setup. But we stood firm and our tech committee designed a hybrid setup that allows for everyone to be able to participate—on both sides of the table. By the end of the semester we were negotiating with upwards of ten additional members in the room and many more online. 

Despite McGill pushing back on many issues, so far, there has been a willingness to make substantive improvements on various aspects of the CA—a willingness noticeably absent from previous rounds of negotiations. Showing up for each other at the negotiation table through the open bargaining process has allowed members to provide crucial insight into their working conditions in departments across campus. As we’ve said before, TAs are the experts on our working conditions. Time and again, our open bargaining approach has reminded us that we can win substantive improvements to our working conditions by standing together in the bargaining room and beyond. We hope to continue to bring members from across the university into the bargaining room. We’d love to see you there soon!

Our next session will be on January 16th. Before negotiations, we will be having a “New Year, New Wage” rally with hot chocolate and coffee to show McGill we mean business and are worth what we’re asking for. RSVP here!

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. 

Also make sure to save the date for January 30th, when we will have an important TA Unit Assembly to discuss negotiations and our plans for this semester. RSVP here!

United we bargain, divided we beg! 

Love and solidarity, 

Your Bargaining and Bargaining Support Committees


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