After a meeting with the McGill administration on Oct. 28, the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE) called a five day strike, which began on Oct. 29. AMUSE is a labour union representing approximately 1,500 casual and temporary employees in both part-time and full-time positions. It has been negotiating with McGill for a new collective agreement since April 2015, when the previous one expired. It is unacceptable that negotiations have taken this long and that AMUSE members have been forced to operate under an expired agreement during this time. McGill must recognize these demands and find a way to incorporate them into the new collective agreement as soon as possible.
On a flyer handed out after members of the union voted in favour of strike actions in a special assembly on Oct. 20, AMUSE highlights five priorities: Equal treatment of casual workers, accurate job descriptions and pay, seniority and benefits for casual workers, a living wage, and improvements to the Work Study job posting system. AMUSE has also asked for McGill identification cards to be administered to its non-student members, to allow them access to McGill buildings and services. In a press release, the McGill administration stated that a consensus was reached on Oct. 24 regarding “the content of a possible agreement on this matter.”
Given the fact that casual employees are relied on to fill full-time positions, it is imperative that casual workers are respected and given as much job security as possible. Rights such as recognition of seniority and priority for re-hire are not egregious requests. If casual employees are fulfilling the tasks of long-term, full-time employees, as stated in AMUSE’s bylaws, they deserve “access to the same benefits, in a manner proportionate to their work hours, as regular full-time employees at McGill.” This is especially important for the non-student workers that the union represents, who aren’t covered by student health plans at McGill.
Furthermore, part-time positions on campus are important sources of employment for those unable to secure jobs in the city of Montreal, whether because of visa or language constraints. As such, it is imperative that these workers are treated with respect and that opportunities for these students to find stable employment with fair wages on campus are as available as possible.
AMUSE supports the Fifteen and Fair movement in calling for a $15 minimum wage, but this demand is about more than just a number. It is about advocating for equal treatment of workers, respect, and paying people fairly for the work they do. Although it is likely infeasible for the administration to implement such a change overnight, McGill should take leadership by committing to raising the wages of its casual workers with a strict plan and deadlines. Presently, these are between $10.85 and $12.24 per hour, with the lowest class only ten cents higher than Quebec’s minimum wage of $10.75 per hour. Regardless of whether it accepts the $15 demand, McGill has an opportunity to take a leadership role in this movement by increasing the minimum wage of its workers—something that is increasingly becoming a nation-wide trend.
According to AMUSE’s negotiations update, its main aim in meeting with the administration on Oct. 28 was “to secure a commitment from the employer that the Work Study job system will be renovated according to [its] members urgent needs.” Students are only at university for a short period of time, and the university’s inaction and refusal to meet this demand has negative consequences for students on the Work Study program. In the current system, these students are not guaranteed a job on campus, despite qualifying for financial aid. Specifically, AMUSE is asking for Work Study jobs to “be posted in a transparent and standardized manner” and for the creation of a feedback system in order to “empower students to have a say in how the Work Study program affects the students as workers.” Although there is a database for job postings, it is not mandatory for Work Study jobs to be posted, making it difficult for students to find positions on campus.
A lack of accessibility to Work Study jobs and insufficient wages, benefits, and respect for casual workers negatively impact present workers—especially those with financial need—and must be a priority for McGill. The time for foot-dragging in the process of negotiations has long passed.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that McGill currently has a freeze on hiring.