On Oct. 15, an open letter directed to McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier was published by the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE). The letter addressed grievances that arose during floor fellow unionization, and the way in which McGill University is interacting with floor fellows during collective agreement bargaining processes, which began in October 2014 and are still ongoing. The letter states that the university refuses to respect the floor fellows’ values, namely anti-oppression and harm-reduction, and is violating Quebec labour law by refusing to pay floor fellows a wage.
“Roughly 100 floor fellows who have worked in the past two years have filed cases for backpay with the Commission des Normes du Travail (CNT), requesting that they be paid for the hours they performed while on the job,” AMUSE wrote. “Cases filed in 2013 have already been reviewed by the CNT, which ruled in floor fellows’ favour, yet McGill refuses to pay floor fellows and has appealed the ruling.”
Sadie McInnes, Vice-President (VP) Floor Fellow at AMUSE, noted that McGill continues to be unwilling in remuneration negotiations despite the cases filed with the CNT.
“We […] have repeatedly come to the bargaining table with extensive calculations and testimonies to back up our requests, and it doesn’t seem to be significant to McGill that the CNT has ruled in favour of floor fellows being paid [for] a certain number of hours, or that our [wage] calculations are rooted in averages pulled from people on the ground doing the job,” said McInnes “It’s really hard to know where the figures [McGill presents] to us are coming from.”
Another portion of the open letter addressed changes that have been made to the Residence Life Manager (RLM) role. These changes include non-compensation for overtime hours and a shift in responsibilities from floor fellows to RLMs. Tasks such as taking a student to the hospital, which was the responsibility of floor fellows in the past, are now the responsibility of the RLM. AMUSE stated in their letter that such changes negatively impact both floor fellows and students.
“McGill has unilaterally made major changes to the working conditions of RLMs that have directly and negatively impacted floor fellows’ capacity to rely on them at all,” AMUSE wrote in the open letter. “RLMs have been told that they will not be compensated for overtime hours performed this year, when last year hundreds of these hours were required per RLM in order to adequately perform the job.”
Mathieu Laperle, senior director of Student Housing and Hospitality Services, said that McGill sees nothing wrong with the current RLM model.
“Our students are getting more support and more appropriate support in their transition to university life, especially during periods of crisis,” Laperle said. “This does not take away from the important work floor fellows do, but is an overall improvement in our delivery of services to students in residence.”
McInnes stressed the importance of incorporating floor fellows’ values into the agreement, but noted that McGill has not demonstrated willingness to include the values system in the collective agreement.
“Our biggest difficulty has of course been getting our values entrenched in a meaningful way in the agreement, which McGill has proven really resistant to,” McInnes said. “Pretty much the only thing that has gone off without a hitch has been agreeing over really basic definitions, which is the first step in the process in order to be clear about the language being used throughout the agreement. Other than that, I would say we have faced a lot of difficulty with McGill and most of the process has been really challenging and draining.”
Bargaining will resume in early November. McInnes stated that she hopes to see a change in the general attitude of the administration.
“I hope that McGill will stop disrespecting us with the suggestions they make at the bargaining table and will come forward with suggestions that demonstrate to floor fellows that they recognize the amount of work we do and that our work is valued,” McInnes said. “I would like to see McGill pay its employees fairly, not to mention within the law. I would also like to see McGill stop paying lip service to our values while refusing to institutionalize them.”
In a reply to AMUSE’s open letter, McGill Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance), Michael Di Grappa, addressed the complexity of bargaining procedures and said that an agreement would not be reached in the near future.
“Collective bargaining and the establishment of a first collective agreement are complex and lengthy processes,” Di Grappa wrote in his reply. “Normally, a first collective agreement for an employee group in a commonly understood role can take a year or two. As […] noted in [AMUSE’s] letters and through other channels, the floor fellow role at McGill is a special one. There are not too many other roles at the university to which we could compare it. Therefore, it will take time and extra effort to structure and define an agreement.”