Editorial, Opinion

Unionize McGill

On Nov. 8, the Association of McGill Professors of Law (AMPL) became McGill’s first professor’s union. The AMPL, which represents tenured and tenure-track professors, filed to certify their union in November 2021. However, they faced a combative McGill administration that attempted to discredit the AMPL’s attempts every step of the way through aggressive litigation. The university’s attempts to prevent unionization are disappointingly consistent with a history of indifference and hostility towards workers’ rights. Despite this victory for McGill professors, university employee organizations are still fighting for their rights, and the momentum from the AMPL’s unionization must be harnessed to improve workers’ rights for all of McGill. 

The university’s litigation stood on the grounds that law professors were already represented by McGill’s Association of University Teachers (MAUT) and that it would be unfair to prioritize the unionization of law professors over others. This argument, however, conveniently ignores that MAUT cannot represent workers’ rights in the same capacity as a union. The AMPL argued that a faculty-specific union is important to preserve its members’ rights in a highly-centralized university. Despite these arguments, McGill assembled student tuition dollars to fund a litigious union-busting campaign against attempts to receive proper representation from professors at its very own law school. 

Unionization gives workers the power to negotiate with their employers through collective agreements:A framework to defend their rights, avoid exploitative contracts and salaries, and create safer working conditions. In 2020, Quebec had the highest rate of union coverage in all of Canada. Despite this, prior to the faculty’s win, McGill was the only Quebec Labour Tribunal Federation member where no professors benefitted from negotiated employment contracts. This allowed the McGill administration to trample on professors’ rights: They are overworked and baited with the prospect of tenure while the university maintains its prestige. A blatant example of McGill’s disregard for law professors’ rights took place during the COVID-19 pandemic when the administration forced instructors to teach in person and refused to implement a vaccine mandate despite persistent pleas from the faculty. 

The untenable working conditions that law professors endure are consistent with McGill’s treatment of its workers beyond the classroom. In Winter 2022, students at the McGill School of Social Work went on strike after McGill refused to offer online options for students, knowing their in-person placements were a risk to both students’ health and that of the communities they serve. In the past year, two unions representing non-academic employees at McGill, the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE) and the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA), went on strike due to abhorrent working conditions and unfair pay. As of Sept. 13, only one of McGill’s 14 labour unions has an updated collective agreement with the university due to internal administrative delays. Collective agreements dictate the wages, hours, and working conditions of unionized members, and because of their delayed renewals, most union workers are being paid outdated salaries that are not adjusted to inflation or minimum-wage increases. 

Although AMPL’s unionization is a big victory, it is important to note that its membership is made up of predominantly white, socioeconomically advantaged men. Meanwhile, non-tenured lecturers and teaching staff, who are more likely to experience precarious working conditions, still do not have an updated collective bargaining agreement. The AMPL has laid the groundwork for the unionization of other faculties at McGill, who must follow the AMPL’s example as soon as possible and take advantage of this ruling’s momentum. This decision, however, must also motivate a renewed push to support the rights of unionized workers, like those represented by MUNACA—who have been in an ongoing fight with the McGill administration to secure a collective agreement and improve their conditions. 

The Faculty of Law’s push for unionization is especially significant as they are educating a future generation of policymakers to understand the importance of the right to collective organization and representation. The security and protection provided by unions will facilitate better teaching from professors, who will be put on equal footing to advocate for their rights to the McGill administration. The AMPL’s work is commendable and sets a historic precedent for all McGill workers. Moving forward, McGill students must encourage professors in positions of leadership to advocate for unionization, and recognize that all workers at McGill should be treated with respect and dignity.

Erratum: A previous version of the article stated that all teaching staff did not benefit from a negotiated employment contract at McGill before this certification. In fact, it is all professors who did not benefit. The Tribune regrets this error.

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