On Feb. 20, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter 2017 General Assembly (GA) passed motions to oppose increases in ancillary fees and to formally ratify the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The GA was delayed by one hour in order to meet quorum. Although quorum was eventually reached, it was not held long enough to approve the final motion regarding floor fellow bargaining.
This motion proposed that SSMU call for a moratorium on overhead fee increases from the university until Feb. 20, 2022. Additionally, the creation of a committee with student parity representation was proposed in order to review and approve budgets of ancillary fee-funded units. These units include Student Services, Athletics and Recreation, Athletics Facilities Improvement, Access McGill, and the World University Services Canada (WUSC) Refugee Program. This motion passed with a majority vote.
Ancillary fees are mandatory student fees that are often increased through motions submitted by the fee-funded. These units are subject to overhead charges from the university for expenses including accounting, legal, and maintenance services. Vice-President (VP) University Affairs Erin Sobat said that overhead charges for Student Services have increased from $30,679 in 2010 to $651,385 in 2017.
Sobat, one of the movers of the motion, responded to a concern from the audience that halting ancillary fees increases will result in services being cut.
“The university has certain financial obligations to maintain,” Sobat said. “In the context of student services, in particular, we would not expect that because they do have a surplus."
In 2015, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a set of 17 SDGs in order to combat climate change and promote cooperation among member states. This motion proposed that SSMU ratify the SDGs in order to make a tangible impact on its members’ awareness of sustainability. Attendees of the GA voted to pass the motion.
Joelle Moses, U1 Arts, moved the motion and said that McGill would be the first educational institute to ratify the UN SDGs if approved at the GA.
“These 17 goals provide [the background] for policies for universal prosperity, peace, and equality,” Moses said. “These goals include no poverty, zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, encouraging economic growth.”
Some students at the GA, including Rez Life Coordinator Lucie Lastinger, questioned the productivity of this motion, as existing like Divest McGill which strive have the the same goals. Moses responded that spreading awareness about the UN SDGs alone will help members of SSMU.
“If the GA [passes] this motion, it goes onto all [SSMU] students at McGill,” Moses said. “If a student looks up SDGs, that step has positive implications.”
Since October 2014, McGill floor fellows have been lobbying the university to receive monetary compensation for their work. Before this motion was voted on, some students left the GA, breaking quorum and causing the GA to become a consultative forum. Remaining attendees voted to support the motion, but could not officially approve it due to the loss of quorum. The motion will be presented for approval at the SSMU Legislative Council meeting on Feb. 23.
According to the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE) VP Floor Fellow Isabelle Oke, floor fellows do not receive a wage but are instead given room and board as remuneration. Senate Caucus William Cleveland said that against the Quebec Act Regarding Labour Standards, which states that workplaces must provide employees a minimum wage for their labour.
In a post made on Feb. 3, AMUSE announced that representatives from both parties had signed an agreement in the presence of an arbitrator, but McGill ultimately backed out. Oke said that this motion would require SSMU to assist floor fellows attempting to improve their working conditions as the administration has not been receptive thus far.
“Floor fellows are currently being paid $0 an hour and are without a proper union,” Oke said. “This motion is to mobilize SSMU members to support Floor Fellows.”