by Eric Smith
McGill teaching assistants voted last week to give their union a strike mandate. The Association of Graduate Students Employed by McGill (AGSEM) got 65% of the nearly 250 votes cast. McGill employs approximately 800 TAs each semester.
Negotiations between the University and the union are continuing and the AGSEM leadership does not anticipate calling a strike at this time.
According to AGSEM negotiator Elaine MacDonald, "the next couple of weeks of negotiations will tell us whether or not we need to take further action."
MacDonald says that in a meeting the day after the vote "the negotiation schedule was stepped up. We prioritized all of the issues that have not been resolved, including salaries and classification."
McGill negotiator and associate director of staff relations for the Department of Human Resources Jacques Sztuke declined to comment on the results of the AGSEM vote.
But according to Vice-Principal (Academic) Bill Chan, "the University has always been committed to the negotiations and that commitment has not changed."
Chan added, "The University is committed to delivering teaching to students. We believe the University has done everything possible to ensure that the welfare of students will continue to be protected."
According to AGSEM coordinator Hugh Potter, membership had been frustrated with the pace of negotiations before the vote. "It was a struggle to get one day a week (of negotiating meetings.) Now we have two days a week and the possibility of doing some work on weekends."
"It's crazy to spend so long," he added. "This has been going on for two years."
So far, negotiators have tackled disciplinary and grievance procedures. But the thornier questions of salary and workload have not yet been negotiated. According to the current negotiation schedule, meetings on salary will be held before the end of the month.