AGSEM pens open letter condemning continued issues with Workday

In October 2020, the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) sounded the alarm over technical issues with the newly implemented Workday Human Resources (HR) system, which left hundreds of employees without pay for months. Two months into the Winter 2021 semester, some McGill employees are still without pay from Fall 2020, others have yet to be paid for work completed since January 2021, and many continue to experience technical difficulties with the Workday interface. In response to persisting issues on Workday, including its decentralized problem-solving method, AGSEM sent an open letter to the McGill administration on March 2 condemning the university’s lack of response to their complaints and set forth several demands.

Although most delayed pay cases were resolved by the end of the Fall 2020 semester, Jessica Rose, AGSEM’s grievance officer, estimates that there are still roughly one dozen outstanding incidents, with new cases arriving in her inbox on occasion.

“I was talking to someone earlier today [and] they have not been paid a single cent for the work they did in the fall,” Rose said. “We just had a partial resolution for somebody who just got paid for work [they] did in the summer [2020].”

After spending much of last semester supporting individuals experiencing payroll issues, AGSEM’s recent letter calls attention to the broader operational and managerial shortcomings of the Workday module. The system’s hiring and registration process is one such shortfall: Employees must be “terminated” from any previous employment before they can register as “hired” for a new position. According to Rose, this setup inconveniences employees who work multiple jobs at the university.

“For Workday, you are supposed to have one profile that covers all [your jobs],” Rose said. “But there is no way for all these different offices who are hiring the same person to coordinate with each other. If different information is put in at those two different levels, [employers] are not going to see it, payroll is going to see it. Payroll does not know where it comes from and […] is not set up to take the initiative to troubleshoot anything that comes their way.” 

While delayed pay was a recurring problem in the Fall semester, Rose was surprised to see employees being overpaid in the Winter 2021.

“[Some employee] contracts were entered for the wrong number of hours, or [employees worked] extra hours but were never actually paid for them,” Rose said. “We are also seeing a ton of issues where people were apparently overpaid. Now McGill is trying to garnish their wages, except there are a ton of errors in the way that they have calculated that.”

Raad Jassim, president of the McGill Course Lecturers and Instructors Union (MCILU), echoed some of the letter’s frustrations regarding Workday. Reflecting on his experience with the Banner/Minerva systemthe HR system McGill used preceding Workday—Jassim felt the previous system was more functional

“[In Banner], I could see my taxes, I could see my address, I could see my deposit of salaries, I could see my job description,” Jassim said. “If I want to go back 20 years, it [was] all there.”

Following the transition to Workday, Jassim lost access to previously logged information and could only obtain it by submitting a request to McGill’s HR. Jassim recalled how inaccurate data input caused humorous mistakes, but nevertheless served as a testament to the system’s poor infrastructure.

“Sometimes [Workday states] I am hired in 2020, [and] sometimes I am hired way back in 1990,” Jassim said. “So […] when did I start my master’s at McGill? When I am looking at the data, it shows that I started in 1901.”

Jassim has been assisting MCILU constituents settle Workday-related issues since the Summer 2020 semester and is currently pushing the administration for reforms. One notable reform includes carrying over previous profile information so that individuals are spared from having to re-input data for every new employment session.

“If you reinstate yourself in the onboarding [and] you forget to put your pension plan, […] your retirement savings plan, [or] you do not know how, you will be deprived of the benefits,” Jassim said. “So I am asking McGill [to change this] because I do not want to do that every time. It has to be automatic.”

Mario Roy, president of AGSEM, believes the burden of Workday’s faulty system has fallen on employees and unions, who are left to troubleshoot and resolve a wide array of individual complications.

“I’ve been receiving a lot of comments from the hiring units on the fact that this system is much harder to manage, as compared to the past system,” Roy said. “When we receive complaints from our members, sometimes they have been working hours and hours on the phone trying to resolve something [….] When they call HR it is always a back and forth with the union, with HR, with IT services. [McGill] needs […] to improve [the system] overall, instead of looking at it case-by-case.”

The letter demands that McGill conduct an audit of outstanding employees who have experienced issues with Workday and that the university form a task force to ensure impactful solutions are implemented. Rose stated that McGill should consult with unions and workers on solutions moving forward and urged the administration to streamline Workday’s management.

“We want to see that McGill is putting in the management infrastructure that is needed,” Rose said. “There is no software solution for this, it is a manpower and managerial issue. It has to be something that has central coordination because staff in the hiring units are working as hard as they can.”

In an email to The McGill Tribune, a representative from the McGill administration stated that the university has resolved all known delayed payments from the Fall 2021 semester and is moving quickly to address issues as they arise.

“Since the roll-out of Workday back in August, more than 30 staff members from the [Retirement to Recruitment] team and the HR Service desk, in addition to staff in Payroll, Staffing and Academic Personnel have been focussed on supporting end users and resolving the various business process issues that have surfaced over the course of the fall semester,” the representative wrote. “Since then, a number of measures have been put in place to help ensure the next round of hiring for Winter 2021 goes as smoothly as possible. Enhanced user support and training and process improvements are ongoing and will continue to be a priority.”

Rose maintains that McGill’s response to the Workday situation constitutes a demonstrated failure of leadership on the part of the university. 

“The one comment from our members that keeps ringing in my head is, ‘I feel completely abandoned by McGill,’” Rose said. “It is one thing to be frustrated by the circumstances of the last year, but to feel abandoned is assuming that the university leadership has completely forgotten about you and has moved on from the problem before fixing it. There are people who are taking home six figures who are supposed to be fixing this and they are not.”

AGSEM has filed for arbitration for collective grievances on late payments from Fall and Summer 2021. The union is hoping to reach a settlement with McGill to compensate its members but will move the case in front of an arbitrator if a settlement is not reached soon.

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