On March 24, the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE) held a rally outside of the James Administration building to bolster support for the floor fellow’s bargaining team. Floor fellows, upper-year students who work in McGill residences, have been on strike since March 18 over failure to reach a collective agreement with the university. The rally eventually relocated to outside University Hall, where the bargaining team met virtually with Susan Campbell, interim senior director for Student Housing and Hospitality Service (SHHS), and other administrators in an attempt to negotiate a new agreement. Among the floor fellows’ top priorities are higher wages, retroactive pay, and an updated meal plan.
Both students and members of the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) joined the rally in support of floor fellows and AMUSE in their bargaining efforts with McGill.
“I’m here in solidarity,” said Lucas Marques, member of AGSEM and of McGill’s Socialist Fightback Club, in an interview with The McGill Tribune from inside University Hall. “It’s absolutely unacceptable what McGill has been offering the floor fellows. My dean [David Eidelman] makes almost $900,000 in compensation, Suzanne Fortier makes almost $860,000 in compensation.”
Because no agreement was reached between the bargaining team and the administration at the March 24 meeting, the strike will continue. According to James Newman, MA ‘20 and president of AMUSE, actions are planned for the near future to show that floor fellows are willing to stand their ground until they reach a fair deal with McGill. Overall, he believes the strike has been a powerful mobilizing force that has helped garner support for the floor fellows throughout the McGill community.
“This week has been spectacular,” Newman told the Tribune, referencing the open letter in support of the AMUSE negotiation team addressed to McGill. “We went from about 600 signatures before the strike started […] to over 1,500 [….] We’re mobilized, we’re motivated, but we are also distraught at the situation going on in residence.”
The “situation” Newman was referring to is the recent spike in COVID-19 cases within McGill residences, which he sees as further evidence of the need for better working conditions for floor fellows. According to Newman, COVID-19-positive students have been told to use shared bathrooms and dining halls, and McGill’s testing program for those in residence is being scaled-down to just the Carrefour Sherbrooke site. Newman believes that McGill’s decision to loosen COVID-19 restrictions in residences at this time is dangerous both for students and floor fellows.
“Things are really hunkering down right now as a result of the ongoing case-breaks that are plaguing McGill,” Christian Tonnesen, U4 science and vice-president floor fellow, elaborated. “I know that many floor fellows are concerned about the possibility of working in these conditions [….] As it currently stands, we as employees are being asked to live and work in conditions that place us at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, which seems to be a flagrant disrespect of Quebec labour safety codes.”
At the beginning of their strike on March 18, floor fellows left residences and stayed in hotel rooms until March 21—paid for by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, AMUSE’s parent union. Tonnesen explained that because St. Patrick’s weekend is a particularly busy time for floor fellows, they hoped their action would resonate with McGill. According to Tonnesen, the university did not communicate with students in residence about the fact that floor fellows would be away.
“Per strike rules, the only people that were allowed to work our roles were those above us in the chain of command, meaning that only Residence Life Managers (RLM) could take our spot,” Tonnesen said. “However, I saw no communications from McGill to students about the fact that floor fellows would be on strike, which seems concerning given how active of a weekend St. Patrick’s Day weekend usually is.”
In an email to the Tribune, McGill media relation officer Frédérique Mazerolle provided an identical statement to a previous request for comment regarding the ongoing bargaining between AMUSE and the McGill administration.
“Both parties have come to agreement on all non-monetary elements within the collective agreement,” Mazerolle wrote. “It is our hope we will reach a fruitful agreement as quickly as possible.”