McGill, News

Arts professors and faculty lecturers form McGill’s third and largest faculty union

With over 9,000 students and more than 300 staff members, the Faculty of Arts is the largest on campus. Despite its size, the Association of McGill Professors of the Faculty of Arts (AMPFA) surpassed the number of signed union cards necessary to file for certification at the Tribunal Administratif du Travail (TAT) within three months of active organizing. On April 4, a day after AMPFA submitted its application to the TAT, the McGill community gathered by the snowy stairs of the Arts Building to celebrate the launch of the union, which, if certified, will represent all tenure-stream professors and faculty lecturers. 

AMPFA emerges on the heels of other faculty unions forming at McGill. The Association of McGill Professors of Law (AMPL) won its battle for certification against the university in 2022 and the Association of McGill Professors of Education (AMPE) is currently fighting for certification at the TAT. Barry Eidlin, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology, attributes the current wave of faculty unionization at McGill to a broader labour movement against corporatization and precarious academic employment across North American universities. 

“There’s been [a] sort of corporatization of higher education, where the administration has […] cut itself off from the faculty, so this idea of […] collegiality and faculty governance has been eroded,” Eidlin said in an interview with The Tribune. “The shift in the university has been towards more casualized forms of academic labour, so more reliance on teaching assistants, on contingent […] course lectures and faculty lectures,[…] and that’s what’s been […] driving a lot of this push towards unionization [….] People are realizing that […] that these academic jobs are not as secure as they used to be [….] So what we’re trying to do is to make collegiality real again by levelling the playing field.”

AMPFA and AMPE diverge from their inaugural counterpart AMPL by including faculty lecturers in their membership. Sabeena Shaikh, a faculty lecturer at the Institute of Islamic Studies, spoke about the significance of her membership in a speech at AMPFA’s launch rally.

“[Faculty lecturers] have limited representation and influence in institutional governance and decision-making processes, affecting our ability to advocate for our own needs and interests within the academic community,” Shaikh said. “This union represents our collective voice advocating for fair compensation, job security benefits, and professional development opportunities. Together we can ensure that the contributions of all faculty members, regardless of tenure status, are valued and respected.” 

Representatives from other faculty, student, and staff unions on campus braved the elements in solidarity with AMPFA and its executives. A representative from the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), the union representing teaching assistants (TAs) and invigilators who are currently on strike, emphasized the need for cross-union solidarity in their address to the attendees.

“McGill seems to forget that this institution gets its name and recognition from the cutting-edge research and education that faculty and graduate students are provided every day and that […] the extremely high salaries of the administrators also profit from this daily work,” said the representative from AGSEM who wished to be unnamed. “We are showing now that McGill works because we do [….] We’re showing McGill that they will not divide us. Workers, faculty, and TAs will fight together for better working conditions, higher pay, pension benefits, [and] parental leaves among many other improvements to their contracts.”

In a post-rally interview with The Tribune, English professor and Interim Secretary of AMPFA Derek Nystrom echoed the rally’s speakers and chants—such as “Our unions, united, will never be defeated”—to highlight the timely nature of the Arts faculty’s unionization given the university’s response to the TA strikes. 

​“One of the things that I found again, and again […] is that when one of the unions on campus goes on strike, there’s this expectation that the faculty will pick up the slack, and in that way, put less pressure on the university to resolve the strike and bargain in good faith,” Nystrom told The Tribune.  “Becoming certified as a union will allow us to say, ‘We can’t be used as a pawn anymore,’ […] that we’re actually going to stand with our fellow workers and you can’t add to our workload in the expectation that we going to do the work for you.”

A previous version of this article stated that out of the three faculty unions, only AMPFA included faculty lecturers in its membership. In fact, both AMPFA and AMPE have applied to represent faculty lecturers in their bargaining units. The Tribune regrets this error.  

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