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Tribune Explains: SSMUnion

The Student-Run Service Members’ Union (SSMUnion) officially launched their campaign on Facebook on Nov. 24. Their goal is to unionize SSMU employees to combat issues of overworking and provide support for all full and part-time SSMU employees. SSMU employs a staff of over 100, including volunteer services such as Sexual Assault Center of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) and Queer McGill, along with paid administrative staff. The launch included the announcement of two events, on Nov. 28 and Dec. 3, where SSMU employees will be able to ask questions, clarify demands, and sign union cards. 

Why do SSMU employees need to unionize?

According to SSMUnion organizers Shaquiera Hamilton and Belle Sullivan, both U3 Arts, SSMU employees are exploited and need more resources, regardless of their employer’s intention. 

“There is a large lack of training, support, and resources one needs in order to actually do one’s job,” Sullivan said. “This sort of inefficiency can make people need to work outside of their contract hours. Because most SSMU jobs are on a 200-hour contract for eight months, if your project takes more than 200 hours,  you either have to drop it or keep working without getting paid.”

Furthermore, a lack of standardized communication between SSMU and its employees has created disparities. Because SSMU executives change every year, employees never know if their projects will continue receiving the same support. 

How is the SMMUnion formed?

According to Sullivan, the process of unionizing is extensive and requires at least one year to complete. 

“In order to become a formal union, you need 50 per cent plus one of the workplace [to desire a union],” Sullivan said. “That can either be done through initial card-signing or, if between 35 and 50 percent of employees sign cards, […] it goes to an election. [The card signing] is going well.” 

After the SSMUnion receives enough signatures, they will be verified by the Quebec Labor Board, which then grants them formal union status. 

“We will then adopt formal bylaws,” Sullivan said. “Right now we are using the bylaws of our parent union, [the Canadian Union of Public Employees] (CUPE), [to] set up a formal union structure and enter collective bargaining. Then we enter formal negotiations with SSMU to put together an agreement [that] we hope will address our list of demands and create a better system that anyone can refer back to when they’re having future problems.” 

Hamilton recognizes that SSMUnion’s goal is ambitious, even with the amount of signatures they already have.

“Our goal [is] to get this done […] by the end of the school year,” Hamilton said. “Given that there is such a high turnover rate of SSMU executives, we do not want to be in the middle of this process with a new group of executives.”

SSMUnion’s parent union, CUPE, is a Canadian national union [that] has experience in Quebec; employees from the Concordia Student Union (CSU) are currently members of a local branch. 

“[CUPE] was also the union that CSU is with,” Hamilton said. “It is really nice working with a union [that] has experience working with a university similar to McGill.”

What will SSMUnion do to help employees?

Over the past year, SSMUnion organizers have collected responses from SSMU employees and are working on a list of demands to present to the executives once the union officially forms. However, the union’s list is still unfinished. 

“We want to get the input of the rest of SSMU’s employees before we start prioritizing certain demands over others,” Hamilton said. “Because there are more part-time staff than there are full-time, we don’t want to prioritize demands [of] part-time staff and then leave out the demands of the full-time staff.” 

Overall, the SSMUnion wants to streamline support for SSMU staff to create a better work environment, comprehensive contracts, and a unified order of communication between SSMU and its employees. 

SSMU is not allowed to comment until negotiations are over.

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