By Shoynear Morrison
McGill University has now joined the 2015 trend of teaching assistant strikes in Canada.
TAs have taken to the picket lines for a 24-hour strike on the McGill campus.
President of the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), Justin Irwin, said the group received a response from the university last month about their financial demands.
“What we had been asking for was a five per cent wage increase per year and an indexation of TA funding to student enrollment,” Irwin said from the picket lines. “So basically we want our hours to go up as enrollment goes up.”
The response they received was a complete disregard to their demands, he said.
“They offered us what amounts to a wage cut,” Irwin said. “They offered us (the same as the) public service negotiation raise increase, which is a wage freeze for two years and then three years of a 1 per cent increase,” for provincial civil servants.
The AGSEM members found this counter-offer unacceptable and the strike action is supposed to signify their discontent, Irwin said.
Irwin, who was a teaching assistant for four years at McGill, said he is trying to bring awareness to precarious work.
Recently, TAs from the University of Toronto and York University also faced opposition to their negotiation demands, resulting in strikes and class disruptions – all of which have now been resolved.
Humber College faces similar challenges with job security.
“We would like to see a lot more full-time faculty,” said Humber College Faculty Union – OPSEU president Audrey Taves.
“It’s better for the people who get the positions but it’s also better for the students,” she said.
Lack of job security means, part-time faculty must work multiple jobs which results in the inability to dedicate more time to students and teaching, said Taves.
Although post-secondary TA strikes have been trending this year, the Ontario strikes have not directly influenced McGill’s TAs current actions.
“We gave them each a statement of solidarity,” Irwin said. “Their strikes brought a lot of attention to the issues we’re facing here.”
Their demands are different, but McGill, York, University of Toronto and Humber faculty and teaching unions all share a general concern for those in precarious employment post-secondary schools, and their need for appropriate support.
Irwin said McGill TAs are paid dramatically less than ones who work in Ontario.
— Isaac Stethem (@isaacstethem) April 16, 2015
With exams commencing Thursday, Irwin said the TAs are trying to be as undisruptive as possible.
“No students were prevented from writing exams. Nor were there any attempts to block students from entering exam rooms,” said director of internal communications at McGill University, Doug Sweet.
“We hope this afternoon and this evenings exam periods go as smoothly as this morning,” he said. “McGill University has been in negotiation with the TAs for a while.”
Since August 2014 to be exact, according to a AGSEM press release.
“We never negotiate in public…this is just a continuant,” Sweet said. “They decided to hold a one day soft picket.”
There aren’t any expectations for a resolution today, he said. It’s an ongoing labour negotiation for a contract, so the process will continue.
The association is aware that the chances of a settlement today are highly unlikely.
“What we’re hoping for is that the action that we’re taking today will provide a clear signal of our dissatisfaction and our willingness to take action to the university,” Irwin said. “When we get back to the bargaining table with them they’ll be willing to offer us something that we can actually accept.”
If their offer doesn’t change, Irwin said they have been directed to call another strike in the fall, which may be longer than one day.
“I hope the university takes heed and moves the needle on this,” Irwin said.