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Students worried about employment opportunities at McGill

15 people attended an open conversation about McGill’s budget cuts and Quebec tuition indexation in the Lev Bukhman Room in the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) building on Mar. 26. The event was hosted by SSMU Vice-President External Robin Reid-Fraser, and many of those in attendance were elected student representatives to SSMU.

SSMU President-Elect Katie Larson read an email from McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum, describing McGill’s “measures to address budget challenges,” which was sent moments before last Tuesday’s event began.

Jaime MacLean, president of the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE)—a labour union that represents half of McGill’s non-academic employees—expressed several concerns about the voluntary retirement package announced in Munroe-Blum’s email, which will be available to “administrative support staff aged 60 and over.”

“It’s really restrictive, because people need to give their answer [soon] and leave work by the end of August,” MacLean said. “From what I’ve heard, there are four to five hundred people who are eligible for that … [and the administration is] planning for around 40 per cent of those staff to take it.”

Last Tuesday’s MRO also announced that the McGill Association of University Teachers (MAUT) agreed to a year-long salary freeze. According to MacLean, professors have no real control over their own salary freezes.

“[MAUT is not a union], so there’s nothing they can do to stop that,” MacLean said. “McGill professors are one of the last faculty groups in Canada to not have a union.”

Reid-Fraser suggested that the relationship between campus unions and the McGill administration has been strained for some time.

“We just had the MUNACA strike [in Fall 2011], which I think raised the tension between [the] McGill administration and the unions,” she said. “There’s always been tension … because of the way [the administration] treats unions in general, and their attempts to unionize.”

Reid-Fraser’s statement referred to the administration’s response to a move by the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) to unionize course lecturers in Fall 2010, which included ordering pro-unionization posters to be removed from campus notice boards.

Another topic of discussion at the event was the fate of student jobs on campus.

A part-time McGill student and full-time employee at the McGill Bookstore, who asked to remain anonymous, commented on the Bookstore’s plan to shorten opening hours.

“We got an email [today] that the bookstore … [which] used to be open nine to seven, Monday to Friday, now is going to be open nine to five,” the student said. “That really kills people’s availability …. Not being able to work three [o’clock] ‘til seven, or four ‘til seven, is going to really cut a lot of people. It’s a way of firing people without firing them.”

MacLean also expressed concern over the expected decrease in student employment opportunities on campus.

“[Students] depend on getting a campus job, [and] there already aren’t that many of them,” she said. “Not only are students losing jobs … it’s [also] reducing access to services for students who need them.”

Larson suggested that McGill’s method of handling these issues might be creating conflict, instead of uniting different members of the McGill community, such as students, administration, faculty, and part-time employees.

“The way the university is approaching the problem is very pro-student,” Larson said. “What they’re trying to do is [please] students by saying, ‘We’re not cutting your classes, we’re cutting our staff.’”

“By doing that, [the administration seem to be] setting students apart from the staff, which … isn’t [effective], because there are many students who are also staff here at McGill,” Larson continued.

Reid-Fraser said she supports the idea of a united approach to budget cuts and tuition indexation, and sees the current situation as a chance to restructure McGill’s employment systems.

“Maybe this is a time to [not] be … thinking about all of these staff as one group taking a pay cut, but thinking about this as an interesting opportunity to have workers and students looking at this bureaucratic environment that they work and live in, and [determining] where are the places where this bureaucracy is bigger than it need to be,” she said.

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