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McGill law professors ‘feeling very positive’ following final union certification hearing

On Aug. 31, Quebec’s labour relations tribunal, the Tribunal administratif du travail (TAT), held its final hearing regarding McGill’s law professors’ efforts to unionize. Since the Association of McGill Professors of Law (AMPL) filed to certify their union in November 2021, the university administration has been fighting the unionization on the grounds that a faculty-specific union is “inappropriate.” 

During the hearing, McGill’s legal team, led by Corrado de Stefano, cited several previous decisions where the Tribunal rejected faculty-specific unions at other Quebec universities, such as efforts by engineering professors at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières or by law professors at the Université de Montréal. 

AMPL argued that McGill’s case failed to address the relevant central question before the Tribunal—whether any form of union could be recognized. The team also claimed that McGill cited previous Tribunal decisions that were not applicable to the situation at hand, and that this case is fundamentally distinct because it represents a “greenfields” context, where no collective representation currently exists. 

McGill law professor Evan Fox-Decent, interim president of AMPL, elaborated on the importance of considering the greenfields context in an email to The McGill Tribune.

“In all [the cases presented by McGill], the TAT and the courts were not deciding whether or not a union or bargaining unit would exist,” Fox-Decent wrote. “[The courts were] determining the shape of the union or bargaining unit against the background presumption that some form of collective organization either already existed or would emerge.”

AMPL is not attempting to split from an existing general professors’ union, nor is it trying to compete against other unions for certification. In this case, the question becomes whether any form of union will be recognized, not whether the union structure proposed—in this case, a union specific to the Faculty of Law—is appropriate compared to others.  

Fox-Decent believes that McGill also failed to consider how Canadian labour case law has evolved since the right to collective representation became constitutionally protected. He explained that today, landmark cases in greenfields contexts place a heavy burden on the employer to prove that the proposed union is not capable of representing its members—a question McGill barely addressed. 

“The eight labour law cases presented by McGill were from the 1970s and 1980s,” Fox-Decent wrote. “None of them referenced the Canadian or Quebec Charters [or] freedom of association as a constitutional right.”

According to a tweet from AMPL during the hearing, law professors felt optimistic about their case against McGill. Charlotte Sullivan, President of the McGill Law Students Association, told the Tribune in an email that law students are proud of AMPL’s case for union certification. Many students have shown continued support for their professors’ efforts to unionize by attending hearings or writing letters to the McGill administration.

“We have yet to know the outcome, but the AMPL and their lawyer, Mr. Ataogul, put together an excellent case,” Sullivan wrote.

McGill law professor Richard Gold has been closely following the hearings and believes that unionization would strengthen his faculty. During an interview with the Tribune, however, he emphasized that professors in the Faculty of Law are not all consumed by the cause and are primarily focused on providing the best possible education to their students as the semester begins. 

“I anticipate that once AMPL is certified, it will bring a new sense of purpose, more energy, and greater creative thinking about how we organize ourselves to deliver the best education, scholarship, and policy development possible.” 

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