Sent on March 2, 2021 on behalf of AGSEM, The Association of Students Employed at McGill
Dear Principal Suzanne Fortier,
and Workday Sponsors:
Provost and Vice Principal (Academic) Christopher Manfredi
Vice Principal of Administration and Finance Yves Beauchamp
and Workday Program Steering Committee:
Associate Vice Principal of Human Resources Diana Dutton
Associate Vice Principal of Financial Services Christiane Tinmouth
Executive Director of Analysis, Planning and Budget Leigh Yetter
Chief Information Officer Marc Denoncourt
As we pass one year since the beginning of the pandemic, McGill has utterly abandoned its graduate students. Our mental well-being and work-life balance are in a state of crisis. The decision to spend time with our families, or not, carries the weight of public health concerns. Many of us have still not been paid for our labour during Fall 2020. Some of us have not been paid for work we did in Summer 2020. And now, despite repeated assurances that McGill has solved problems with Workday, many of us have not been paid for work we started at the beginning of Winter 2021. Hundreds and thousands of dollars in bills have piled up and we continue to work for McGill without the University abiding by their legal obligations to pay us. This should be cause for serious reflection from our University administrators. McGill’s continued failure to compensate its employees is at the heart of a larger ethical failure, and the administration’s refusal to be held accountable for these failures (or their timely resolution) amounts to a denial of the experiences of hardship expressed by graduate workers. It is important to keep in mind that, pre-pandemic, many graduate student workers at McGill were already in crisis: McGill’s own Key Performance Indicators show that the University has never met its own graduate funding targets, and per a 2016 survey, over a third of TAs had to forego medical care because of lack of finances.
Is the implementation of Workday a success? At the December 2 meeting of the McGill Senate, Provosts Christopher Manfredi and Yves Beauchamp, executive sponsors of the Workday experiment, expressed little to no urgency in helping to address the issues we as students face and presented to them. Provost Manfredi disagrees that the University failed to pay hundreds of employees on time. He points out that 12,000 employees were successfully paid following the Workday rollout, though that has no bearing, legally or ethically, on the number of employees who have still not been paid. Provost Manfredi considers the hundreds of unpaid student workers to be an indication of success, an acceptable margin. The message to TAs, RAs, non-academic casuals, and other contract workers is clear: not paying the most precarious employees is not something McGill considers a problem. Perhaps it would be considered more of a problem if it only affected McGill higher administration.
Has McGill responded with compassion to the financial hardship it has caused student workers? At the December Senate meeting, Principal Fortier helpfully drew attention to McGill’s lack of meaningful efforts to provide relief to the student workers by bringing up the emergency loans that were offered. Associate Vice-Principal of Financial Services Christiane Tinmouth, one of the Workday sponsors, told the Senate that only 30 student workers took this loan. AGSEM has an idea as to why. The loan of $1,500, goes towards McGill fees and tuition, and not useable as cash, was put in students' accounts, without their prior knowledge or consent, though the loan would "time out" if a student worker did not activate it. The loan's repayment deadline was January 1, 2021, even though the last pay date for the term would be not until January 7. McGill was urged, and refused, to include an option to extend this deadline in the terms of the loan, should the employee’s pay still be delayed. Both PGSS and AGSEM also urged McGill to waive any late fees or interest on the repayment of this loan, arguing that non-monetary means to collect overdue payments, such as holds, were sufficient given the circumstances. McGill refused. Sure enough, some of those who did take this loan were not issued their first pay by January 1. We know why only 30 workers took this loan: McGill’s employees have no faith that they will be paid on time, and they saw this loan as a transparent attempt to generate revenue from struggling workers.
Has McGill been honest with the community about this problem? Principal Fortier’s attempt to deflect any criticism of the Workday experiment brought to light another important fact. At the end of October, the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Josephine Nalbantoglu and McGill’s office of Labour Relations assured AGSEM and PGSS that the emergency loan would be offered to every student employee that the university was aware of who had not been paid, including undergraduates. According to SSMU Senators, undergraduate workers did not receive any emergency loans. Despite the fact that AGSEM had informed the University that at least 460 TAs had not been paid, on October 22, the Montreal Gazette published an article in which Provost Manfredi told the public that around 150 employees were “still pending in Workday” and had not been paid. Yet we learned from the Workday team that in that very same month, they determined that 300 graduate student employees had not been paid and were offered an emergency loan. This means that Senator Manfredi’s own team acknowledged that the minimum number to be much higher, yet the extent of McGill’s failure to address this was gravely misrepresented to the public.
Does McGill take its obligations as an employer seriously? The administration has repeatedly insisted that transition to a new payroll system is bound to have errors. Principal Fortier told Senators that, as with every endeavour, we must give it time, and be patient. The suggestion here is that it is uncollegial to demand accountability. Yet now, as McGill forces more graduate workers to teach in-person, it is very apparent that we are not your colleagues. These are not regrettable errors, they are hundreds of individual violations of the law and collective agreements. The patience that we must grant our employer is defined by the Labour Standards Act, 30 days from the start of work. All constituents of McGill, from contract staff up to the senior administration, should take very seriously what Workday’s failure means for the University: hundreds (if not more) of violations of employment law, with a potential for thousands of dollars in fines and financial settlements. This is the definition of “success” that has been delivered by the leadership of Provosts Manfredi and Beauchamp.
What does AGSEM want? AGSEM has asked many times, in many forums, for an audit on outstanding employees who have not been officially “hired” by the Workday system (and are therefore not showing up as “hired” in HR’s records), as well as those who have been paid late, had paycheques lost in the mail, or face other payroll issues. McGill continues to refuse. AGSEM has asked for a task force, including McGill employee unions and associations, to address the issues that many are facing with Workday. McGill continues to refuse. The University has declared itself unable to document the extent of these problems and unwilling to recognize the significant effort by student workers to document it for them. Above all else, we demand fair compensation for TAs who have been subject to wage theft. Since December, we have been told that McGill acknowledges this obligation and is prepared to make a financial settlement, yet each time we have met to discuss this, McGill claims that they are not ready to do so yet. They need more time to “understand the situation”, as they do not know how many workers have been impacted. That’s right - they’ve told you that they’ve got a handle on the situation, they’ve corrected the problem, and that they are now able to pay their employees. They’ve told the media and the public that they are confident of the extent of the problem and are on their way to fixing it. But instead, through their actions and discussion with the Union, prove all their claims untrue.
AGSEM has filed for arbitration and will seek the maximum penalty for McGill’s violations of employment law. We call on the administration to locate their sense of responsibility to the University community. The University has trusted the Workday team to deliver solutions for months and they have failed, most notably in preparing HR to deal with this problem. HR and the Workday team clearly cannot manage the problems created by their failed implementation of this system. We call on Principal Fortier to transfer management of this problem to a competent team who will work with student employees and administrative staff. We call for an investigation into these failures and a systemic solution.
Sent on behalf of AGSEM
The Association of Students Employed at McGill