After a year and a half of campaigning, the Association of McGill University Support Employees, the organization composed of McGill’s 3,000 casual workers, has unionized and affiliated with the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
The campaign, which began in September 2008, started when a group of undergraduate students in the McGill work study program felt they needed a union structure to balance their working conditions with those of the represented colleagues.
After considering several possible representative bodies, AMUSE organizers chose the PSAC, also known in French as the Alliance de la Fonction publique du Canada. Although the exact figure is not public, AMUSE collected signatures from the 35 to 50 per cent of eligible card signing members necessary to move to an official vote. Conducted by mail in ballot beginning October fifth, the poll saw approximately 85 per cent of voters recommend in favour of joining the PSAC. Abstentions were treated as votes in negation.
“This new bargaining unit is huge,” said Véroninque Allard, leading campaign representative from the PSAC. “It is really a major change. You already have on campus [McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association], but when these people go on sick leave or parental leave, or when a job position becomes vacant, it is replaced be a casual worker. [This worker] is accomplishing exactly the same tasks, same job title, but these people were not unionized before.”
Allard emphasized that the distinction between student and worker should never be confused.
“Our student status should never be confused with our worker status; it is not the same,” said Allard. “Sometimes, because we are so keen to work on campus and we need to work on campus because we can’t get by with student loans, the work on campus becomes a part of our education. We tend to forget that it is a job and accept working conditions that are unfair.”
Casual workers who will now be unionized include campus tour guides, athletic centre employees, food service workers, and temporary secretaries. Because AMUSE is exclusive to non-academic workers, teaching assistants are not included under the organization.
“It is an exciting result with the massive amount of support that came out, but we were not expecting much else given the amount of support that we have received up until now,” said Max Silverman, AMUSE student volunteer and Tribune columnist.
Despite the inevitable high turnover rate of temporary employees, particularly undergraduate students, Silverman believes that widespread support across various positions indicates the need for workers to organize.
“The diversity of the field that still all gave positive support … shows me, at least, that the workers may change year to year but the issues are still there and the issues stay the same,” said Silverman, who previously served as the Students’ Society vice president external. “Therefore I have no doubt that even if there has been a lot of turnover, the new people who are there are going to see this as just as valuable as [those before].”
Silverman also believes that although a wide variety of positions are covered under the agreement, the common need for representation of casual workers creates a shared interest.
Before negotiations over a collective bargaining agreement with McGill commence, AMUSE must still assemble executive and bargaining committees, establish operating bylaws, and agree internally upon demands.
The PSAC now represents roughly 19,000 workers across eight Quebec Universities.