Strike wrap up

Strike wrap up McGill University

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McGill Reporter
May 22, 2003 - Volume 35 Number 16
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Strike wrap up

It seems everyone is happy about the deal the teaching assistants and McGill reached on May first. The Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) ratified the new contract on May 8, with 94 percent in favour.

"This will benefit both McGill and TAs. We look forward to implementing this agreement, and we look forward to returning to normal," said AGSEM president Jordan Gellar.

The TA strike began on April 24. The terms of the previous contract had expired May, 2001. Negotiations for a new contract began December of that year.

On the table were a number of monetary and non-monetary issues, including wages, equity across faculty, priority pool and the position of graders. AGSEM asked for provincial conciliation in January of this year.

Gellar said that although the union was not pleased about the length of time the negotiations dragged on, "that's water under the bridge."

"We're very happy, but this was a negotiation, and there were two sides," he said.

The final deal left everyone happy. TA wages will rise to $22 an hour by 2007, the last year of the new contract. Equity will be achieved by 2006, at an hourly wage of $21.52 an hour. The priority pool now includes PhD 5 students who started their degree as PhD 2. In addition, TAs will be given a lump sum payment of $200 each term they had a TA appointment in 2002. The total extra cost of the four-year contract over its term will be roughly $1 million dollars.

Vice-Principal (Academic) and Provost Luc Vinet is very pleased with the settlement.

"From a management point of view it's the uniformization of the wages across the university that we're most satisfied with," he said.

"It will allow our graduate students to be well supported," he said.

Associate Vice-Principal (Academic Staff and Planning) Stuart Price was a member of the university's negotiating team. AGSEM had been comparing their wages to other universities in Canada. Price pointed out that this isn't quite valid: McGill's funding comes from the province.

"You need to look at the salary rates with respect to the finding we get. Our funding comes from the provincial government, and we have the best paid TAs in Quebec," he said.

"The TAs are an integral part of the university, and I think it's good to have a contract -- we had to give some, they had to give some, I think we achieved a compromise that I think is good for the whole university."

Price, Vinet and Gellar all give full credit to Lise Lavallée, the government-appointed conciliator who brought the two sides together. Executive Director of Human Resources Robert Savoie also added that the relative speed with which the strike finished also contributed to the satisfactory conclusion.

"People tend to see a strike as a collapse. But a strike allows both sides to re-think their positions, and the strike was not a nasty strike, it didn't last long enough to have positions harden on both sides," he said.

There are some issues yet to be decided. AGSEM wanted graders to be considered members of the union. The current contract requires that TAs doing grading will be paid as TAs. AGSEM is currently petitioning the Quebec Labour board to include graders as members of the union.

Although the strike was resolved almost painlessly, its timing -- during the grading period -- was very disruptive to many professors. Vinet said that in future, the university will be better prepared for this kind of event.

"We'll be doing a post mortem to possibly be more ready to deal with the disruption a strike will have on the academics of the university," he said.

For his part, Gellar sees the deal as a victory for AGSEM.

"The success of our strike will set an example for the other unions in Quebec," he said.

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