McGill employees will once again bear the brunt of poor administrative choices. AMUSE (Association of McGill University Support Employees) has been fighting for better living conditions and wages for residence Floor Fellows, but they now have to make yet another sacrifice: Their living space.
In March 2023, the McGill administration decided that Floor Fellows’ living space will be decreased in every residence except Solin Hall—they will no longer be housed in the more spacious rooms of the university’s dormitory residences as was customary. In Carrefour Sherbrooke and La Citadelle, the change will simply be a reduction of personal space. According to AMUSE, in Upper Residence (Molson Hall, McConnell Hall, and Gardner Hall), Douglas Hall, and Royal Victoria College (RVC), the Floor Fellow suites—typically including a private kitchenette and bathroom—have either been partitioned and renovated into two single bedrooms, or kept intact and rented to first-year non-employee residents, while Floor Fellows have been moved into the smallest single bedrooms available. Additionally, in Upper, Douglas Hall, and RVC, Floor Fellows will be sharing the communal washrooms with the first year students they supervise, a significant imposition on the daily-life of both students and Floor Fellows living in McGill’s residences.
The university justified their decision citing an increasing number of applicants for student housing. In response to this decision, AMUSE filed a grievance against McGill, stating that this decision violates articles 1.01, 4.02, 5.01, 5.02, 12.01 and 12.07, non-inclusively, of the Floor Fellow collective agreement.
Floor Fellows are an essential aspect of residence life, as their job directly contributes to the experience and success of first-year students. When the barrier between their working environment and living space is broken, Floor Fellows are left with an extremely challenging student job. The assigned shifts do not account for the intimate, informal, and essential work Floor Fellows do, when living amongst students inevitably demands constant awareness to unpredictable situations and the pressures of uncompensated emotional labour. With McGill putting profits over people, conditions for everyone in student residences worsen. By eliminating the distinct privacy that comes with the traditional Floor Fellow spaces, first-year students and Floor Fellows both lose their autonomy, with the former having to share a common space with an older figure of authority and the latter mediating between being an authority figure in shared spaces and accessing personal time.
It should be obvious to the McGill administration that diminishing the living conditions of Floor Fellows will inevitably impede on the quality of their work, both in their ability to provide for first-years and to be strong students in their own studies. Although McGill fairly asserts that students need places to live on campus, it must not be done at the expense of Floor Fellows.
Floor Fellows do the hard work of helping students navigate through their first year, compensating for the poor mental health services that McGill provides; thus, neglecting and suppressing workers’ rights only adds to an endless cycle of abuse. McGill’s fraught relationship to unions will only be overcome with serious organization and consolidation of students, staff, and professors to speak out and use their collective power to hold the administration accountable.
Given the housing and affordability crisis in Montreal, there need to be more institutional and collaborative solutions from students, activists, and the McGill administration responding to what the community needs. If McGill is unable to meet the housing needs of first-year students while providing safe and private housing for Floor Fellows and students alike, they must be more transparent with incoming students and resolve the false idea that residence can be provided for all. Appropriate living—and thus working—conditions are necessary to ensure the supposedly high-quality service in residences which McGill currently claims to offer. If the university wants to continue to offer first-years a fulfilling living experience so they thrive in residence, it must put Floor Fellows first.