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Bargaining Newsletter #9: When will McGill get serious about negotiations?

Tuesday Jan 16, 2024

It’s a new year, a new semester, and we are back at the bargaining table, fighting for a new contract for McGill TAs!

Molly and Lauren hold a “We all deserve a living wage, Huge raise and healthcare for TAs!” banner at Roddick Gates; Marta drums on a bucket

To celebrate AGSEM’s return to the bargaining table, and the start of the monetary portion of our negotiations we held a rally, beginning at the Roddick Gates, and eventually walking over to the HR building in which negotiations are being held. Despite the cold and the snow, TAs from across the university joined us, drinking hot chocolate, talking about our work conditions, listening to rousing speeches, and singing labour anthems. 

Bargaining Officer Nick drums on a bucket as Aiden and Magnus hold our antique AGSEM banner (older than many of our members!!) at Roddick Gates

AGSEM gave McGill our monetary proposal at our last session on Dec. 18, so we went to the meeting eager to hear McGill’s counterproposal. Following the rally, our bargaining team, along with a number of members, headed to the bargaining room. 

Since we started negotiations in September, we’ve been negotiating in the same room, but today McGill told us it was being used by someone else so we negotiated in a different, much smaller, room. It was a tight squeeze, but we managed to fit our entire bargaining team; Nada El Baba, Nick Vieira, Dallas Jokic, Kiersten van Vliet, Jean-Philip Mathieu, Sébastien Boisvert (our FNEEQ advisor) and members from across the university, including a number on Zoom. 

The negotiation team in deep discussion before the session begins

McGill started the session by telling us that they did not have a counterproposal for us. What they did have, however, was thoughts about our proposal. In general, McGill indicated an unwillingness to make any concessions on most aspects of our proposal—in their words, they have “no appetite” for what we are proposing. They fluctuated between logistical worries about everything from our proposed cost-of-living adjustment, trainings for course supervisors and relevant staff on the collective agreement, increased liberations for the union, healthcare funds, to outright rejections of those same issues. 

When commenting on our proposal to implement a mechanism to tie TA work hours to the number students enrolled in a class, they argued that there are no such standards at the university. Does McGill University really have no standards to ensure that there is a reasonable number of educators available to deliver the education to its students? Do they have no interest (or appetite) in creating such standards? Concerning! 

The employer tried to poke holes in our proposal wherever they could find an opportunity so as to discredit it, without offering any substantive solutions to how to solve the many problems we brought to their attention. We answered McGill’s questions about our proposal and heard their concerns, but their message was, time and again, “lower your expectations.”

Frustratingly, despite acknowledging that their side has a mandate to offer a particular wage, McGill would not tell us what wage they thought was fair. They insisted that our offer is far higher than theirs would be, but were unwilling to tell us what they would propose. They suggested that we have to lower our proposed wage before even seeing their’s— explicitly asking us to “negotiate with ourselves.” They provided lots of preamble, warning us that we wouldn’t like the offer, that it would be low, and at one point admitted that the offer they give us will be a “lowball”—no wonder they don’t want to tell us! After us asking over and over again for some more clarity on their position, McGill told us they would send us the amount they are proposing for wages soon.

In the context of record inflation and a profound cost-of-living crisis, McGill TAs need a new contract. We have a serious proposal that has been well-researched, thought out, and developed based on a strong mandate from our members. Our proposals are based on Collective Agreements of other Canadian TA unions. Despite having the existing precedent and the lived experiences of the members of the union on our side, McGill dismissed our proposal as unserious and unrealistic. What’s truly unrealistic is expecting TAs to deliver essential educational work that the university prides itself on while getting by on meager wages in the context we’re living in. McGill cannot call itself the “Harvard of the North” without delivering that kind of quality education, and it is clear for everyone except for McGill that maintaining its reputation requires investing in that education. 

McGill TAs don’t have time or patience for “lowballs,” lowered expectations, and mind games. We need a deal that works for all of us. We have given McGill a considered but ambitious proposal. We hope that McGill will get serious about negotiations and make us a credible offer by our next session.

It’s clear we have to continue to take these negotiations into our own hands to win a fair contract. There are many ways to get involved and fight for the cause with your fellow TAs! If you’re interested in joining us in the bargaining room, we’d love to have you. Fill out this form and we’ll let you know when you can be part of negotiations. 

We also will be having a Unit Assembly, open to all McGill Teaching Assistants on Tuesday Jan. 30th at 5:30pm, hybrid with locations downtown and at Macdonald Campus (RSVP). At this assembly, we will discuss the progress on our bargaining mandates to date, McGill’s monetary counterproposal (or lack thereof, we shall see), and come up with a strategy to win—together!

United we bargain, divided we beg! 

Love and solidarity, 

Your Bargaining and Bargaining Support Committees


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