December 6, 1996
by Daniel McCabe
Tis the season to feel anxious--at least if you're an undergraduate facing a stressful few weeks filled with end-of-term essays and final exams. It could have been worse, though, had McGill's teaching assistants voted in favour of a strike.
In a vote held last week, members of the TA union AGSEM narrowly defeated a motion calling for all McGill TAs to leave their jobs just when their services would be sorely needed to help mark term papers and exams.
AGSEM members voted 111 to 108 against walking off the job.
"The result of the vote was disappointing," says AGSEM spokesperson Regina Harrison. "I think we would have been in a stronger position if we had gone on strike."
Harrison says the call to strike failed for a variety of reasons. "Some TAs didn't think they could lose two weeks of salary, especially right before the holidays. [After two weeks, AGSEM's parent union, the CNTU, would have started paying AGSEM members a portion of their salaries.] Many members wanted to wait for an arbitrated settlement."
For the past two years, the TA union and McGill have been holding talks aimed at establishing AGSEM's first contract with the University. The two sides have settled most of the non-salary issues, but AGSEM recently broke off the discussions.
According to the TA union, McGill's positions on salary levels and job security were just too distant from what AGSEM has in mind. Last month, the union made a formal request to the Quebec government to appoint an arbitrator to the case.
In March, McGill proposed paying TAs who help teach courses about $15 an hour, while TAs who grade essays and papers but don't teach would earn $10 an hour. The matter of tuition waivers would be left to individual departments to sort out with their own TAs.
"That wasn't intended to be our final proposal, but AGSEM never gave us a counter offer," said Robert Savoie in the November 7th Reporter.
Harrison sees things differently. In an interview following her presentation at the recent Future Visions Conference (see pages 8 and 9), Harrison responded, "What was said to us during the talks was, 'This is the best offer you will ever hear from us.' That offer involved a pay cut for 60% of our members. To get that after two years of talks [indicates] McGill isn't interested in really negotiating with us. If McGill came to us and revised that last offer, we would be more than happy to listen to a new offer."