McGill, News

Floor fellows file grievance against McGill over poor working conditions

The union representing floor fellows at McGill, the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE), has filed a grievance against the university over changes to floor fellows’ accommodations. Floor fellows are upper-year students hired to live in residences and support the primarily first-year students living there, who are often new to living on their own. A grievance is a formal complaint made on behalf of the employees about a violation of their rights in the workplace. It can mean a violation of the law or the collective agreement.

Beginning in the 2023-2024 academic year, McGill’s Student Housing and Hospitality Services (SHHS) converted larger rooms formerly designated for floor fellows into rooms for students, with floor fellows now occupying smaller rooms. According to AMUSE Vice President (VP) Floor Fellows Graeme Scott, this change in accommodations increases the number of spaces where floor fellows will be forced to interact with students throughout their daily routine, making it more challenging for floor fellows to take a break. AMUSE claims that the policy violates the 36-hour rest period guaranteed in their collective agreement with McGill.

“Imagine if you work at a more conventional office where you go home at five o’clock. Imagine if you’re at home on a Sunday morning and your co-workers from the office can just wander into your kitchen and start talking to you,” Scott said in an interview with The Tribune. “By removing floor fellows’ ability to have these private spaces where we can step away from our residents, it makes it impossible for us to ever take a break from working.”

In a written statement to The Tribune, McGill Media Relations Officer Frédérique Mazerolle reported that these changes, specifically the renovation of some floor fellow rooms to accommodate additional students, were made in response to a growing demand for student housing—but do not breach McGill’s legal agreement with floor fellows.

“The renovations were not a factor in the negotiations with [AMUSE] and are a separate project that does not affect the terms of the contract,” Mazerolle wrote. “Our priority is to provide an equitable living experience for all residence students.”

AMUSE has also accused the university of bargaining in bad faith. Documents Scott shared with The Tribune reveal that the policy of smaller rooms for floor fellows has been under development for the past five years. However, the policy was first introduced to floor fellows by the SHHS on March 17 of this year, after strikes demanding higher pay in Spring 2022 paved the way to finalize their collective agreement with McGill. 

Scott believes the timing of the policy’s implementation was strategic. Currently, floor fellows can no longer strike or perform work stoppages or slow-downs because they are bound to Article 28 of their collective agreement.

“Trying to separate this policy from the contract is, I think, a false and an absolutely disingenuous framing of the issue,” Scott said. “If we had known about this [policy] during the bargaining period, this would have been a massive priority. Now that we’re locked into this collective agreement, [McGill] chose to strike at a time when we have very little recourse through collective action.”

Scott also alleged that SHHS made it clear to floor fellows—both in communications with them regarding union relations and as employees—that the policy was primarily designed to generate additional revenue. 

“It has also been made clear that this policy is an attempt to generate extra revenue, in order to help SHHS clear its debts, which we have been told are in the area of multiple [tens] of millions of dollars,” Scott wrote. “If the primary motivation were to accommodate more students, McGill would not be renting out the larger Floor Fellow rooms to first years.”

Joey* is among the many floor fellows who claim the policy has had significant negative impacts on their quality of life in the residences. One of Joey’s major concerns with the policy is that it forces them to share a bathroom with first-year students. In their residence, the hooks to hang up towels are across from the shower stalls, creating the potential for students and floor fellows to walk in on one another while they are undressed. 

In July 2023, floor fellows requested that SHHS designate certain bathrooms specifically for floor fellows. In an email chain obtained by The Tribune, SHHS responded by telling them it would not be logistically feasible to do so because it would limit the number of bathrooms for students. As a compromise, the SHHS offered to install hooks in the showers to allow for more privacy for floor fellows and students. As of Sept. 11, however, hooks beside the showers have not been installed in Joey’s residence bathroom.

“This unresolved issue has placed me in a vulnerable situation [of] being assaulted or harassed. I do not feel safe when I go to shower every night,” Joey wrote to The Tribune. “I feel disappointed that no action is being done to fix this easily solvable issue.”

Joey also shared that the changes make it more difficult for them to spend time with their friends. Their smaller room size means there is less space to accommodate guests, and their floor fellow duties make it difficult to find time to visit their friends’ homes. They explained that the policy has consequently interfered with their social life and has negatively affected their mental health. 

“My social well-being has been impacted negatively as I no longer have the luxury of hosting many guests in my room,” Joey wrote. “The room changes have definitely decreased my social interactions with friends and exacerbated feelings of loneliness.”

For Joey, the impacts of this policy have extended to the attitude they bring to their work as a floor fellow. Previously, they had spent time outside of their work hours planning bonding activities such as dinners and game nights for their floor, but they do not intend to do so this year.

“The morale is low within the floor fellow community,” Joey wrote. “I am no longer motivated to go above and beyond my job requirements.”

The Tribune interviewed several first-year students, none of whom reported any major disruptions to floor fellow support so far. According to Charlotte Dominy, U0 Arts, her floor fellow ran several activities during the first week and created a floor-wide group chat that helped students bond.

“The welcome week, I think it went by smoother because we had the opportunities to connect on socials because of the floor fellow,” Dominy said. 

While floor fellows have reportedly assisted in a smooth transition into residence life for many first years, Scott believes that the worsened working conditions of floor fellows will ultimately lead to “a massive reduction in the quality of care” for first-year students. He stressed that without a culture of respect between floor fellows, AMUSE, and SHHS, floor fellows will lose motivation to go beyond for students in residence.

“When floor fellows are deprioritized by student housing, then the natural long-term result is that floor fellows begin to deprioritize their jobs in return, because why should we give extra when we’re not being treated fairly,” Scott said.

AMUSE has referred the grievance to the legal team of their parent organization, the Public ServiceAlliance of Canada (PSAC). AMUSE hopes to reverse the policy and receive monetary compensation for the university’s allegedly bad-faith bargaining through arbitration or court hearings. 

*Joey’s name has been changed to preserve their confidentiality.

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