Montreal Gazette

Teaching assistants at Mcgill set to begin strike today


Mcgill University's 1,600 teaching assistants have announced they will be on strike starting Monday, as the final sprint of the semester gets underway. The university's teaching assistants voted 87.5 per cent in favour of an eight-week strike mandate this month.

According to Fanny Teissandie­r, a teaching assistant in anthropolo­gy since last fall, the main point of contention remains salaries.

In an interview with Presse Canadienne, Teissandie­r maintained the negotiatio­ns are aimed at reducing the disparity between the average salaries offered at Mcgill and those at similar universiti­es, which stand at $46.36 an hour.

“There's really a very, very big difference when you consider that teaching assistants' salaries (at Mcgill) are $33.03,” Teissandie­r pointed out.

Christine Gauthier, vice-president of the Fédération nationale des enseignant­es et des enseignant­s du Québec (FNEEQ -CSN), reacted in a statement issued on Saturday.

“Negotiatio­ns were disappoint­ing for the union, because the negotiatin­g committee showed flexibilit­y and received very little openness in exchange from the university,” Gauthier said. “The strike mandate is strong and our members will not back down until they get a respectful wage offer.”

The teaching assistants also want the hours they are assigned to be indexed to the number of students, a measure that would guarantee them a certain number of hours.

“Mcgill is in the process of reducing the hours contracted to teaching assistants, (which) jeopardize­s the remunerati­on of teaching assistants and also jeopardize­s the quality of education that teaching assistants are able to provide to students,” Teissandie­r said.

The negotiatin­g committee is made up of three members of the Associatio­n of Graduate Students Employed at Mcgill (AGSEM) and an adviser from FNEEQ -CSN. Negotiatio­ns to renew the workers' collective agreement began in September.

Starting today, a strike fund will be available to teaching assistants. If they participat­e in 20 hours of strike activity per week, they will be entitled to $350 per week, most of which will be paid by FNEEQ -CSN.

Teaching assistants are graduate students enrolled at Mcgill who assist and mentor students in their studies.

Generally speaking, they are responsibl­e for correcting academic work, conducting seminars, taking care of certain administra­tive tasks and answering emails, as well as meeting with students outside class hours to advise them on their upcoming assignment­s and exams.

In that sense, Teissandie­r said, the strike could have an effect on undergradu­ate students.

“These repercussi­ons will really depend on how long the strike lasts,” she explained. “Undergradu­ates may indeed have difficulty

Undergradu­ates may indeed have difficulty obtaining their final grades for the courses in which they are currently enrolled.”

obtaining their final grades for the courses in which they are currently enrolled.”

Given that, Teissandie­r said she hopes the university won't drag out the labour dispute until the end of the session.

“Teaching assistants really are essential workers,” she said. “It's time for teaching assistants to be treated with respect and dignity to protect not only their living conditions, but also Mcgill's mission of education.”

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