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Teaching Assistants Push to Hold Strike Mandate Vote

On 30 January 2024, the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) convened an assembly of Unit 1 Teaching Assistants to discuss ongoing negotiations with McGill for a new Collective Agreement. After nine negotiation sessions with the employer (read our bargaining newsletters), the Bargaining Committee had asked the President to call a Special Assembly in an attempt to break the gridlock on outstanding non-monetary issues and assess the appetite of TAs to escalate mobilization pressure tactics to win our monetary demands.


At the end of the assembly, TAs voted unanimously on a motion that mandates AGSEM committees to take all necessary actions including a vote to get a strike mandate to be held on the week of March 11.


The full text of the motion is below.


Motion: Increase Bargaining Pressure Tactics

Be it resolved that AGSEM adopts a pressure tactics mandate organized and carried out by its membership;

Be it further resolved that the Mobilization Committee will take all necessary actions including a strike vote to achieve the TA bargaining mandates;

Be it further resolved that the AGSEM Executive and TA Bargaining Committee will organize a special assembly for a strike vote on the week of March 11th.


 

On January 30, TAs convened in a hybrid setting, with physical locations in Leacock 232 and Raymond R3-047, for a four-hour meeting. Invited guests from the Concordia Research and Education Workers (CREW-CSN) Union, SSMUnion (CUPE Local 5447), and AGSEM’s Conseil central du montréal métropolitain (CCMM-CSN) Mobilization Advisor, Alex Pelchat, were present to observe the meeting. Representatives of the McGill Course Lecturers and Instructors Union (MCLIU) expressed their regrets, as they were travelling to Quebec City for the Conseil Federal meeting of our affiliate, the Fédération nationale des enseignants et enseignantes du Québec (FNEEQ–CSN). Even so, their President Raad Jassim conveyed his full support of the mandate to organize a strike vote to the AGSEM Executive Committee. 


At our assembly, TAs heard reports from the Bargaining and Bargaining Support Committees on existing bargaining and bargaining mobilization mandates. First, Loïc Nassif, a member of the Bargaining Support Committee (BSC) spoke about the structure of the BSC, which was established at the 27 April 2023 TA Assembly. The BSC is involved with open bargaining coordination, tech and logistical support for hybrid negotiations, note-taking in bargaining sessions, research and writing proposals, and a plethora of organizing work in departments to support the education and mobilization of rank-and-file union members.


As Dallas Jokic, Bargaining Committee (BC) member said, eliciting a large applause of appreciation from the assembly for the committee: “The BSC has been essential for the bargaining process. It would have been impossible to get as much research done without them. Also, open bargaining wouldn’t be possible [without their support].”


Then, BSC member Cal Koger-Pease spoke about the structure and success of open bargaining, which was established at the 12 September 2023 TA Assembly. AGSEM is, we believe, the first labour union in Quebec to pursue open bargaining. In the first negotiation session on 21 September 2023, the BC won the principles of open bargaining and hybrid meetings after some pushback from the employer. Open bargaining has made it possible to allow any member of AGSEM to attend a session of negotiations. This has been an incredible source of power and expertise, allowing the BC to fact-check the employer in real time as well as demonstrate the size of our bargaining unit. It has also increased knowledge and investment in the bargaining process for members from across the union. And, most of all, it’s fun! If you’re interested in joining us in the bargaining room, we’d love to have you—fill out the interest form


Cal Koger-Pease at the mic.


The next report on the progress of non-monetary negotiations was prepared by Bargaining Committee Chair Nick Vieira and presented by other members of the BC, Nada El Baba and Dallas Jokic. The BC relayed that they were able to secure agreements in principle on the majority of our non-monetary demands (also documented in our bargaining newsletters). There are three outstanding non-monetary issues: 

  1. The employer refuses to add an additional, timely annual meeting with the Provost to discuss issues affecting graduate student workers; 

  2. The employer has reservations about our proposal to ensure that graduate students cannot be prohibited or discouraged from applying for TAships by their supervisors or departments, thus preventing interference with our employment relationship with McGill; and 

  3. The employer—while backing down from their proposal to completely remove Article 6, the part of our collective agreement related to Harassment, Discrimination, and Sexual Violence—has maintained that they are unwilling to add additional language to our Collective Agreement that may deviate from their Policy Against Sexual Violence and Policy on Harassment and Discrimination. Our proposal expands on the existing policies to address the specificity of graduate TA positions within the power dynamics of the university.


Dallas gave a more detailed presentation on our mandate for addressing issues in our workplace dynamics with Article 6. In small groups, TAs discussed McGill’s response to our demands and whether it fulfills our mandates. The assembly was then asked to vote on McGill’s proposal, that is, whether the BC should accept McGill’s offer or keep negotiating on this item. The Assembly determined that the offer fell short of our mandate, in particular, when it comes to protecting teaching assistants from misgendering on the job and enshrining the right of workers to limit or discontinue contact with an alleged abuser. The Bargaining Committee is prepared to return to the table to find a solution and hopes McGill is prepared to address these pressing issues. 


The assembly then turned to discussions of our monetary demands. AGSEM is demanding: 

  1. A raise that is competitive with the U15 research institutions that McGill likes to compare itself to; 

  2. A cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to combat inflation in this cost-of-living crisis; 

  3. A $1 million investment in our healthcare in three separate funds, a general fund, a fund to address international TAs’ particular needs, and a fund for gender-affirming care; and 

  4. The indexation of TA hours to student enrolment to prevent the erosion of TA contracts and ensure our professors have the teaching resources needed to design their courses and we have enough hours to provide quality education to our students.

As we have previously reported, McGill has had no response to our demands except to express their “lack of appetite” to negotiate anything other than a wage increase—on which they indicated they would “lowball” us. 


On January 30, McGill TAs decided that the employer's (lack of) response is not good enough. The assembly was in unanimous agreement that we don’t have time or patience for “lowballs,” lowered expectations, and mind games. We need a deal that works for all of us. 


In response to the employer’s lack of appetite to negotiate, the TA Assembly adopted a pressure tactics mandate to get the deal we deserve. With this vote, AGSEM is mandated to escalate our pressure on McGill outside of the bargaining table through various creative actions.


Additionally, with this motion the Executive and Bargaining Committees are now mandated to organize a special assembly to hold a strike vote the week of March 11. Keep an eye out for upcoming communications from AGSEM about the dates of the sessions for this strike vote, which will be announced via email, social media, and on our website.


 

Chief Delegate Mobilization and Interim Mobilization Officer emma mckay at the mic explaining that yes, it can be extremely fun, rewarding, and vital to talk with your colleagues about your working conditions.



TAs on January 30 were unanimous in their conviction that to win life-changing demands, we all need to take the negotiation process into our own hands.


Our collective task now is to talk to every TA at the university about what’s at stake in our negotiations. There are over 2500 of us. It’s a huge job, but it’s the source of our power. Talking to one another is also the reason the Assembly on January 30th was AGSEM’s best-attended assembly in recent history. We need more militants to do this crucial, incredibly rewarding work of organizing others. (The number of shy organizers who have been shocked by how fun and meaningful it is speaks for itself.) 


Join our growing movement. Take AGSEM’s militant training, offered weekly.


We’re doing this, together. McGill works because we do.

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