I started my studies at McGill in September 2011, completely unaware of what social upheaval was in store for me in my first year. With my first day of classes coinciding with the beginning of MUNACA’s strike, and the student movement opposing tuition hikes gaining speed two months later, my introduction to activism and labour precarity was overwhelming and scandalous. Some have described the experience of starting at McGill in 2011 as being similar to any Hogwarts students from Harry Potter starting school in the seventh book - everything was in chaos, and we had no idea what was going on.
Beyond the shocking experience of being nearly trampled by police on horses on campus on the infamous night in November 2011, what personally mobilized me was when two of my floor fellows were fired unexpectedly in March of 2012. As a student in Solin residence, floor fellows had been crucial in helping to create a safe environment in residences and providing support for us as we entered new phases in our lives while living as our neighbours. At the time, I was unaware that these positions were (and continue to be) completely unpaid, and without leases or legitimate contracts protecting floor fellows’ room and board, or outlining legitimate causes for termination. These two floor fellows were involved in activist demonstrations on campus, separate from their roles and without compromising their duties. They were subsequently fired because of this involvement, in what was clearly a symbolic demonstration by McGill’s Administration to strong-arm these activists in ways that would hurt - in this case, taking away their homes, food, and work. As students in Solin, we vocally opposed this decision, but the Administration simply disengaged.
This incident drove me to become a floor fellow in Solin myself two years later, and my involvement in the ultimately-successful union drive in April 2014. After decades of requiring unpaid labour in exchange for room and board (which, as a requirement of the job, cannot be legally considered pay), we finally told McGill that enough was enough. Following unionization, the Commission des normes du travail mandated that McGill pay floor fellows for their work, including retroactive pay for floor fellows in the 2013-2014 year. Payments have yet to be made.
The floor fellow unit of AMUSE is now in its third year of bargaining for its first Collective Agreement, meaning that living and working conditions remain precarious for these workers, and unpaid until a future date. Considering how integral floor fellows are to the functioning of McGill’s Residences, I remain appalled at how this labour is undervalued in both pay and protections. The goals of the $15 and Fair McGill coalition support the continued efforts of McGill’ University’s floor fellows to be paid a living wage with adequate benefits. Going into the future, we look forward to seeing continued solidarity work between the the two groups!
This blog is an initiative of the 15 and Fair McGill Coalition. Curated by MM and MB. This post was written by guest-blogger Kai O'Doherty.