A variety of issues have persisted since McGill’s Human Resources (HR) system transitioned from Banner to Workday in August 2020. Eight weeks into the Fall 2020 semester, hundreds of McGill employees—teaching assistants (TAs) in particular—experienced delays in payment, and some have still not been paid at all. McGill staff have brought the Workday HR system under scrutiny after numerous allegations of payroll issues, technical glitches, information transfer difficulties, and stalled hiring processes have endured into October.
McGill employees encountered issues with Workday almost immediately after its implementation on Aug. 4. After receiving multiple complaints about Workday in early September, the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) launched a survey to track potential violations of McGill and AGSEM’s collective agreement (CA).
Interim Grievance Officer at AGSEM Jessica Rose explained that AGSEM identified payroll issues because a number of TAs were missing from the union “dues list” in September. McGill’s dues list functions as a monthly payroll report for AGSEM.
“There are 400 unique individuals missing from our dues list [from September 2020], accounting for 415 TA positions,” Rose wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “That’s at least 400 TAs who have not been paid. Based on hiring numbers in previous years, I would estimate that there are at least 450 TAs who are not being paid currently.”
Rose explained that certain faculties and departments experienced a higher number of payroll and hiring issues.
“There are at least 16 departments in which more than half of the TAs have not been paid,” Rose wrote. “In 10 of those, 100 per cent of the TAs have not been paid.”
Of the 10 departments that did not receive payment in September, two were in the Faculty of Engineering and eight were in the Faculty of Medicine.
Article 17.03 of the CA states that all TAs must receive their first payment by direct deposit within 30 days of starting their contract, but many TAs, for unknown reasons, are being issued physical cheques from McGill’s HR department. Kiersten van Vliet, President of AGSEM, explained how this violation has impacted TAs not currently living in Montreal.
“There are some people who are being issued cheques […] but they are located somewhere else in the world, and their cheque is going to their Montreal address,” van Vliet said. “For people who weren’t able to access the Workday system and update their address, [the cheques] just get returned to [the HR office]. So they are paid according to Workday, but the cheque is locked in a building.”
When either party—AGSEM or McGill—violates the collective agreement, a grievance may be filed to either the TA’s respective department chair, or the entire HR department to resolve the issue. Rose explained that AGSEM is currently filing several grievances.
“We currently have four collective and individual grievances related to various issues stemming from this, including late pay […], payment by cheque […], unpaid work from the summer semester, and lack of access to Zoom Pro,” Rose wrote to the Tribune.
While McGill has not yet responded to any of the grievances, AGSEM hopes to claim compensation consistent with McGill’s own late fee structure for tuition.
“When you are late paying your tuition, you have to pay a late fee and interest,” van Vliet said. “So what we are trying to claim is a late fee and interest for every employee who has not been paid.”
One TA in the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill, who wishes to remain anonymous, described his experiences with a Workday technical issue: Despite being hired, Workday registered his position as being ‘terminated’.
“Communicating with [the Human Resources] department is highly inefficient,” the TA wrote. “I contacted [the] HR of my faculty/department first, [then] the McGill HR on Sept. 8 [….] Then, after another two weeks, on Sept. 22, they told me ‘we realised that many employees cannot log in and our Workday team is working on fixing this issue’ [….] After that, I heard nothing from them.”
The TA’s technical issue was resolved on Sept. 25, yet the paycheck issues persisted.
“I missed my first paycheck, which should [have been] paid on Sept. 15 [….] The paycheck is still missing, and I am still [in contact] with McGill HR department to deal with this issue,” the TA wrote.
The problems with Workday have also impacted other McGill employees beyond those protected by AGSEM’s union, like casual teaching support workers, tutors, and remote learning assistants. A graduate student, who also wishes to remain anonymous, described their experience as a tutor.
“It’s been three weeks […] and I still haven’t gotten into the [Workday] system,” they wrote to the Tribune. “So, in this time duration, I could have worked. I lost that opportunity.”
The inefficient Workday system has also retroactively affected workers who were employed throughout summer 2020. One undergraduate student, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that they have not yet been compensated for a research position they held over the summer.
“The fundamental reason [why I wasn’t paid] was because I wasn’t in the system before Workday [was implemented], nor during the switch,” the student said. “There was no record of my time cards [or employment].”
The undergraduate student said that they had been in correspondence with McGill’s HR department since early September, exchanging over 10 emails to obtain their compensation.
Earlier in October, 132 professors, TAs, and course lecturers signed an open letter expressing their frustration over the persisting complications with Workday, urging McGill to find solutions promptly. On Oct. 20, Yves Beauchamp, Vice-Principal (VP) Administration and Finance and Christopher Manfredi, Provost and VP Academic sent an email to all McGill staff, writing that 1,450 TAs, 1,000 course lecturers, 300 casual and student research assistants, and close to 800 casual employees had been successfully hired and paid through Workday.
Rose believes that the number of Fall 2020 TAs McGill listed in the email is incorrect.
“According to our data, there are 1,569 unique individuals working as TAs, and at least 1,625 TA positions,” Rose wrote to the Tribune. “Factoring in missing data, it is likely that we have over 1700 TA positions and over 1600 unique TAs.”
Van Vliet is concerned that those 150 to 250 TA positions are still unaccounted for in McGill’s number of paid employees, because their hiring status is still suspended on the Workday system.
In an email to the Tribune, Beauchamp and Manfredi said that McGill’s HR team is aware of the various Workday concerns and is working to resolve the issues.
“Approximately 150 of these new hires are still pending in Workday,” Beauchamp and Manfredi wrote to the Tribune. “Resolution of these cases is the team’s highest priority. A further 700 of these new hires experienced an initial delay in pay, which has since been corrected. Investigation of the cases indicates that about half of them are attributable to isolated technical problems and/or to patterns of misunderstanding or repetition of certain errors by users.”
Van Vliet noted the Workday complications have also burdened local administrators tasked with resolving the various technical issues.
“There is all this added pressure [for administrators] to learn a new system […] and there are so many issues that have to be solved case by case, [so] it’s just a very slow and agonizing process,” van Vliet said.
Rose remains unsatisfied with Provost Christopher Manfredi, Provost Yves Beauchamp, and Assistant VP Diana Dutton’s implementation and handling of the Workday system.
“When an institution makes standing up for your rights this exhausting, it’s a sign of bad faith,” Rose wrote. “I don’t want to downplay how much this affects other employee groups as well, but […] this is not just how McGill treats its employees—this is how McGill treats its students, and then they turn around and ask us to pay them [tuition and fees].”