The Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) voted at a General Assembly (GA) on Wednesday to ratify the Global Offer of Settlement from McGill. The vote passed 172 to 101. The decision brings to a close a negotiating process that has been ongoing since the expiration of the last agreement on June 30, 2014.
Guilia Alberini, the AGSEM teacher’s assistant (TA) bargaining chair, explained that although negotiations were handled by a bargaining committee within AGSEM, it was the organization’s members who decided to accept the offer, rather than reject it in favour of a strike.
“The bargaining committee [was] not making a recommendation to members to vote either against or for the final offer,” Alberini said. “We do not believe that McGill’s final offer addresses many of the concerns of our members expressed throughout the year, above all the issue of TA hours [….] However, voting against the agreement means we must vote in favour of a strike. Therefore, we believe members have the right to be well-informed and make their own decision regarding a possible strike.”
On Sept. 1, McGill submitted its final Global Offer of Settlement to AGSEM, which included improvements on harassment protections and grievance procedures, as well as a retroactive wage increase of nine per cent over four years. According to Alberini, one demand that remained unaddressed in the final offer was TA to student ratios.
“In the last eight years, TA hours have remained completely the same […] while undergraduate student enrolment has been increasing every year,” Alberini said. “We wanted to index TA hours to undergraduate enrolment, and have some upper limits on how many students were assigned to each TA [….] McGill did not want to discuss any of these issues.”
TAs who were in favour of rejecting the offer and initiating a strike vote raised points about the longer term implications of the agreement, and expressed concerns about how these implications might affect the quality of their work at McGill. Claire McLeish, a TA in musicology, specifically addressed the decline in the ratio of TA hours to student enrolment as an important issue.
“If we accept this agreement, we are basically voting for a decline in the quality of education […] and a decline in the quality of TAships,” McLeish said. “I [want to decline the offer] not just for us, but for the students.”
Trevor Leach, a TA in the Department of Political Science, felt the agreement was satisfactory, given past bargaining results.
“I think if you consider McGill’s position on most of these issues, and what we’ve gotten from them, we’ve done pretty well for ourselves,” Leach said. “There’s a lot of austerity in Quebec […but] despite this, we got the raise [….] It’s not much, but at least it’s tied to inflation. There’s always room for future negotiations […but] I’m pretty happy with this deal.”
The AGSEM bargaining committee is currently in the process of meeting with McGill’s negotiating team to finalize the new deal, AGSEM President Justin Irwin explained.
“We are going to be in contact to set up a meeting during which we can make all the appropriate final steps to sign off and make this official,” said Irwin, “It won’t be by the end of the week, but it won’t be too long after that. It will be […] as soon as we can get all the principals in the room to sign off.”
The final deal will be a four-year contract retroactive from 2014, in place until June 2018. Although bargaining for the TA agreement has finished, Irwin explained that the union still has further work to do.
“This long process has come to an end for TAs,” Irwin said. “However, AGSEM also represents the several hundred invigilators at McGill, and that negotiation process is ongoing. Going forward, that process will be a strong focus of our activities.”