Only one member remains on the executive team of the Association of the McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE), the union that represents McGill’s casual and temporary workers. Due to the short-term nature of these workers’ positions, article 5.2 of the AMUSE by-laws states that “an employee whose contract or working period has ended can keep their rights and responsibilities as member of the [union] for a period of 12 months.” AMUSE’s parent union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), permitted this practice despite its divergence from the PSAC’s constitutional requirement that “members in good standing” be under an active contract with their employer.
Former AMUSE Internal Affairs Officer Sebastian Villegas explained in an interview with The McGill Tribune that the lax enforcement of this policy was integral to AMUSE’s operations.
“This has been working for 10 years perfectly fine,” Villegas said. “We were working within the margins of our special deal with PSAC. Otherwise, [because] our turnover rate is incredibly high, it would be impossible for anyone at AMUSE to complete a whole year as an executive or a board member.”
On Aug. 29, PSAC chose to overrule article 5.2 for the first time and called for the immediate dismissal of all executives who were no longer “in good standing” under PSAC’s constitution. As a result, AMUSE’s six-person Executive Committee became a party of one. Currently, AMUSE President and current McGill staff member James Newman is the only executive officer at the union.
“We were really happy for [Newman] to take over AMUSE in February,” Villegas said. “The thing is, I noticed a pattern in his behaviour very quickly after he was elected as president, especially after he went to the PSAC convention. AMUSE has never worked in a hierarchical manner […] but [Newman] started acting unilaterally and communicating with PSAC one-on-one and doing a lot of stuff behind our backs.”
Linden*, a former executive at AMUSE, also told the Tribune that PSAC’s national triennial convention, held in May and June, preluded Newman’s noticeably “corporate and systems-based” actions. Over the summer, PSAC exclusively contacted Newman, who, in turn, did not share his communications with PSAC to AMUSE’s Board of Representatives (BoR).
By late August, PSAC had reached a decision. Aliya Frendo, one of the few Board members remaining, described her experience on Aug. 29 in an interview with the Tribune.
“I check the Slack and there are 250 messages, which is very uncommon,” Frendo said. “It’s basically all of the execs; [Newman] had just forwarded them this email that PSAC sent that says ‘you’re immediately dismissed,’ which is insane because unions literally fight against that type of firing. And [Newman] was saying, ‘it’s not really a job, so it doesn’t matter that we immediately fired you.’”
According to executives interviewed by the Tribune, by failing to disclose his discussions with PSAC to the BoR, Newman violated AMUSE’s democratic governing principles. Newman also allegedly disregarded a BoR mandate that executives should remain on the payroll for the transition period until their replacements are elected and trained. Those who tried to continue performing their roles or to speak out about perceived injustices received a cease-and-desist letter from PSAC’s legal team on Sept. 14.
Several AMUSE members are concerned that being unable to retain experienced executives would threaten the future union operations, but expressed their faith in AMUSE and its enduring significance for McGill employees. A Special General Meeting to fill the vacant seats was held on Sept. 26, but it failed to meet the quorum of 15 members in good standing.
“If anyone reads this, I hope they are able to step up and help fix the situation,” Linden said. “Because as of right now, 1,700 people are being disserviced by a union that [does not have] the ability to help them based on the [unilateral] actions of someone.”
The Tribune reached out to Newman and PSAC for a statement on the internal issues at AMUSE. Newman declined to comment at this time. PSAC did not respond.
*Linden’s name has been changed to preserve their anonymity.