On March 18, nearly two years after the expiration of the Collective Agreement (CA) between McGill and the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE) expired, a town crier announced that floor fellows would be going on strike to push the administration toward negotiations for better wages and working conditions. AMUSE comprises two units: Unit A, which represents non-academic staff, and Unit B, which represents floor fellows. The McGill administration’s failure to compromise on a new CA with AMUSE is reprehensible. The delay and pushback keeps floor fellows in precarity, jeopardizes student experiences, and highlights the administration’s lack of care for floor fellows’ labour.
Because the previous CA expired on July 2, 2020, floor fellows have been working on the basis of a grey interim agreement, meaning that the expired rules and regulations are still in effect. For the past two years, floor fellows wages have remained fixed at 2020’s $13.50/hour rate for an expected 13 hours of work per week, along with their plan allocation of $4,575. AMUSE proposed a wage increase to $18/hour. In response, McGill proposed $13.64. Recently, however, they lowered their initial offer to $13.50, a move that provoked floor fellows to strike. With talks over a new CA having dragged on for years, floor fellows have every right to go on strike to pressure McGill to cede to their demands for liveable wages and better working conditions.
The delay in reaching a CA highlights McGill’s exploitative and neglectful attitude toward floor fellows’ labour. On paper, their responsibilities include going on duty, scheduling and attending meetings with the residence life manager (RLM), and planning inclusive activities to help students settle in at university. However, this list fails to account for the wide-ranging informal duties: For example, floor fellows often expend additional emotional labour by making themselves available to students outside of on-duty hours. When negotiating with the union, McGill must bear this context in mind and value floor fellows as much as students do.
During the pandemic and following the resignation of an RLM, floor fellows took on additional management responsibilities, such as handing out warnings to students who violated safety restrictions in an effort to curb COVID-19 transmission. That floor fellows had to navigate COVID-19 outbreaks, often without proper PPE, on top of their pre-existing duties is all the more reason to support their calls for better wages and working conditions. Especially as inflation and taxes rise in Quebec, McGill’s stubbornness to grant pay increases for liveable wages denigrates floor fellows’ livelihoods and devalues their labour.
On top of the fight over wages, another disadvantage of the interim agreement is the allocated meal plan credit which pays for less than two meals a day. Given that the CA is expired, it cannot keep pace with rising prices: Floor fellows currently receive a fully paid meal plan valued at $4,575, the price of the plan in 2020, which is $1,000 less than the updated 2022 meal plan. Additionally, McGill only allocates $100 a month to floor fellows working in Solin Hall, which makes up a mere third of the estimated monthly groceries expenditure in Quebec. On top of rising food prices in dining halls and paying taxes for their rent, floor fellows will essentially be working for free if they do not receive a wage increase. In addition to having the fees of living in residences deducted from their paychecks, it is often a challenge to make ends meet.
Most importantly, McGill’s two-year delay to reach an agreement over fair pay and proper working conditions showcases its lack of acknowledgement toward the unique role that floor fellows play in the institution. Floor fellows are among the first impressions first year students have of the university and they play a pivotal role in their support systems, especially for international students. They go above and beyond to ensure that all first-year students feel safe and welcomed in the university space.
While McGill comes to terms with the floor fellows’ strike and demands for their CA, McGill students can play a crucial part in supporting their initiative. Students can amplify and support AMUSE’s campaign, especially on social media, by engaging with its events like the floor fellows’ strike. Fundamentally, floor fellows are students taking up extra responsibility to support those around them, and they deserve respect, fair pay, and safe working conditions.
A previous version of this article stated that floor fellows live free of charge in McGill residences. In fact, the Student Housing and Hospitality Services deducts a fee of living in residences from the floor fellows’ paychecks. The Tribune regrets this error.