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Association of McGill Professors of Law to become first faculty union at McGill

A decision rendered by Quebec’s Tribunal administratif du travail (TAT) on Nov. 7 certified the Association of McGill Professors of Law (AMPL) as a union and bargaining agent for tenured and tenure-track professors at the Faculty of Law. This is the first time in McGill’s history that an individual faculty association will be allowed to unionize. The judgement marked the finale of McGill’s legal battle with AMPL, which began in November 2021 when AMPL first petitioned the TAT for certification. 

AMPL Interim President Evan Fox-Decent was delighted by the decision. He believes that the establishment of a union is opening a bright new chapter for the Faculty of Law and McGill.   

“We want to make our faculty a better place,” Fox-Decent said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “We are of the very strong view that with this decision from the Tribunal, we will be in a position to do that, so naturally the decision was received […] with great joy and enthusiasm.”

Although the application to certify AMPL was filed a year ago, law professors have had the desire to unionize for a while. According to Fox-Decent, the primary motivation for a union was to counter the “creeping centralization” plaguing McGill’s faculty-administration relations over the past few decades.

“Whereas we used to do many things entirely at the faculty level, now various things are done centrally or have to be done through centralized processes,” Fox-Decent said. “So we are hoping to recover a certain amount of local control.”

Communication between McGill’s faculties and administration occurs mostly at the McGill Senate, which meets roughly once a month to discuss academic and administrative affairs. Jonathan Sterne, a McGill professor in the department of Art History and Communication Studies, shares Fox-Decent’s aversion to McGill’s centralization. Sterne believes that the balance at the Senate is unfairly tipped in the administration’s favour.

“The composition of the Senate is weighed down with people in administrative positions, such that it is very difficult for it to be run as a faculty majority,” Sterne said in an interview with the Tribune. “I always thought I would be the kind of professor who would take his turn on faculty Senate, and I’ve actually had colleagues advise me not to do it because they say it’s a waste of time, it’s not an effective mode of governance [….] I believe the Senate is broken as a mode of faculty governance.”

Although she was “really thrilled” with the law faculty’s victory against the administration, Charlotte Sullivan, L3 and President of the Law Students Association (LSA), still wonders why McGill opposed AMPL’s certification in the first place. She condemned the university’s uncompromising position against unionization efforts.

“I would love to ask McGill why they would even try to fight this in 2022, when every other school in Quebec also has unions involving their professors,” Sullivan told the Tribune. “To me, it is shocking that McGill has waited this long [to see a faculty union], and it is even more shocking that McGill would try to counter this measure.”

The TAT’s decision to certify AMPL has left Fox-Decent optimistic about the upcoming negotiations with McGill to ratify their first collective agreement. A collective agreement is a written agreement between employers and unionized employees that outlines the rights and duties of all implicated parties. 

“When we gather members in our faculty now to decide on what our bargaining position is going to look like, we’re going to discuss that amongst ourselves, and we’re going to vote on it, and we’re going to assert it as fairly and forcefully as we can with the university,” Fox-Decent said. “Hopefully we will find that our interests align […] and we’ll reach an amicable collective agreement.”

In a written statement to the Tribune on behalf of the administration, McGill media relations officer Frédérique Mazerolle said that “the university acknowledges the decision rendered by the Tribunal administratif du travail. We will be examining the decision thoroughly over the coming weeks.”

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