Dear AGSEM Members,
With campus closed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak as of March 14, there are immediate consequences on our work as Teaching Assistants, Invigilators, or Academic Support Workers. AGSEM is in contact with McGill HR to seek answers to outstanding questions surrounding our labour, but as of this evening no plans have been communicated with the union. As we wait for more information from McGill, this email is to answer some questions you may have under the present circumstances about your working conditions and your union.
McGill’s protocols for responding to the COVID-19 outbreak are constantly assessed and all workers should check their website for the latest information. Any inquiries about how McGill’s response will affect your working conditions as a Teaching Assistant, Invigilator, or Academic Support Worker can be directed to the AGSEM President, Kiersten van Vliet, at email@example.com.
As of Friday, March 13 and until further notice, all AGSEM office hours are suspended, and the union is holding meetings virtually or communicating through email to limit face-to-face contact. We encourage our members to reach out to us by email. Our Annual General Assembly scheduled for March 25 is postponed until further notice, although we will continue to accept nominations for committee positions until a meeting can be convened. These decisions were made on the basis of the recommendations by the Government of Canada for social gatherings, as well as the mass solidarity work that is required to contain the virus and protect the most vulnerable members of our community.
If you were scheduled to invigilate an exam shift between March 13–27 that has been cancelled, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with the details as soon as possible. The union maintains that you should be compensated for any cancelled shifts. We do not currently have any information about whether or not McGill will hold in-person final exams as scheduled.
Perhaps your professor or department has already been in contact with you about changes to your TA workload in light of the measures McGill has taken. Perhaps not. As events unfold and plans are made, we want to remind you that you retain your labour rights and your union continues to advocate for you.
Do I need to come to campus or anywhere else to meet my professor or a student? Not if you don’t feel safe doing so. It doesn’t matter if the campus is open. At this point, the risk is real and that means that you may decline any task that puts your health or the health of another person at risk. Meetings can be held via email, phone or Skype. Materials may be scanned and emailed to you. Assignments that have not been completed yet may be uploaded to myCourses. Whatever the need, there is a contingency plan. (consult: 15.02.05 of TA Collective Agreement “An employee has the right to refuse to perform a task if the employee has reasonable grounds to believe that the performance of the task would endanger their health, safety, or physical wellbeing, or would expose another person to similar danger.” or 16.06 of Invigilator Collective Agreement)
My tasks are changing and we didn’t plan for this. How can I make sure my workload is fair? Pull up that workload form that you signed at the beginning of the semester and assess the hours that you have left and what has changed. Now is the time to keep track of any additional tasks that you are assigned and how long it takes you to complete. Are you recording lectures? Creating new assignments to be completed online? Learning a new platform? Is grading on a new platform taking longer than it would have otherwise? According to 11.03, the union maintains that you should be paid for all hours in your TA contract, even if the nature of the work has changed.
Keep in mind the following:
You have the right to be paid for all course-specific training. (consult 11.02.03 of the TA Collective Agreement)
You have the right to refuse work that goes above the hours in your contract. We recommend that you keep track of your hours and notify your supervisor if you are at risk of exceeding your contract.
You have the right to accept any additional paid hours of work before they are offered to someone else (i.e. the right of first refusal).
You have the right to be paid for all hours worked. If your professor asks you to work extra hours, make sure that they have the department’s approval. (ii-iv, consult 11.04 of the TA Collective Agreement)
McGill will not prioritize your worker rights, be vigilant!
My professor is not respecting my rights but I am nervous to confront them about it. Is there anything I can do? You can always bring a union representative to a meeting with your professor or with your department—including, in times like these, online or over the phone. Your union rep can be there for support and advice, help mediate a disagreement, or be firm and assert your rights. It’s your call.
Need advice? You can contact email@example.com with any questions or concerns
Need a resolution? If your rights and dignity are not respected, you can file a grievance. Under these circumstances, members should understand the following about union grievances:
A grievance is not punitive: It is not an attack on your professor or your department. It is a means of formal resolution.
A grievance usually follows from an attempt to informally resolve an issue. In many cases, a grievance is the only way to compel McGill to recognize TAs’ rights.
The deadline for filing a grievance is 30 days following knowledge of the incident. This means that the deadline is determined by when you became aware of the problem. As the situation develops, AGSEM is seeking a suspension of all grievance deadlines until normal campus operations resume. This suspension is not confirmed yet so members should do their best to act within the 30 day deadline until further notice. Contact us immediately with any concerns.
If I have to be in isolation, will I lose my job/still be paid? What if my child, roommate, or partner is self-isolating? So far, McGill has made it clear that self-isolation, whether recommended by a doctor or not, does not count as sick leave. If possible, you should try to work from home but if isolation interferes with your ability to do your TA tasks, then you must prioritise means to prevent the spread of COVID-19. McGill has the ethical obligation to pay all employees during periods of self-isolation in order to prevent the spread of the virus. McGill may not guarantee paid leave, but AGSEM guarantees that we will fight for it until they do.
If I have symptoms or if I am diagnosed, will I still be paid? Under the TA Collective Agreement, you have the right to take the following medical leaves: up to 10 days for healthcare obligations for your child (16.03.03); up to 3 months to care for your child, spouse, or family member dealing with an illness (16.03.04); and medical leave for yourself with no specified duration (16.06). Normally these leaves are without pay unless you can come to an agreement with your professor about how to make up the work. You should try to make alternative arrangements with your professor if it is possible, but your first priority should be your health and the health of those around you, and you should not wait for alternative arrangements to be made before taking a medical leave. During times like these, the responsibility for making alternative arrangements for all classes must rest with McGill, not with individual TAs. McGill has a duty to their grad students not to punitively interrupt or terminate pay because a TA takes medical leave.
We realize that this is a stressful time as we deal with many uncertainties, but there are resources available to you and many people who want to help. The SSMU and other grassroots student organizers have already started mobilizing to provide support for those in need. Fill out this form, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. AGSEM members seeking mutual aid are also encouraged to reach out to the union directly as we build our capacity in the coming days to aid our community.
We will communicate with you and provide additional information specific to our members as soon as we are able to do so. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions or concerns.
The AGSEM Executive Committee, Bargaining Committees, and Unionization Drive Committee