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McGill academic workers rise up

Chantal Sundaram

April 24, 2024

“Even the sun’s on strike today.” That’s what a McGill teaching assistant’s picket sign read on April 8, the day of the eclipse. 

On April 18, McGill University teaching assistants ratified a deal, ending a month-long strike that started March 25. 

They were set to overlap with newly-unionized McGill law professors, who had issued a one-day warning strike on February 13 and announced an all-out strike if a deal was not reached by April 23. That strike began on April 24.

With the TAs, the main sticking point was salaries. In the end, the 1,600 members of the McGill grad student workers’ local of the CSN, one of Quebec’s main trade union federations, got a 15.5% pay increase over four years and some guarantees of transparency on the allocation of TA budgets. The deal was ratified by only 75% which sends a signal that expectations were higher. 

About 1000 courses were affected by the TA strike, and picketing was lively. The admin went to court to get a draconian injunction to limit picketing and got it – one that shamefully limited picket lines less than five metres from a campus entrance to only 10 people, with the exception of the front gate where 100 people would be allowed to picket within a designated area. Picketers were ordered to not engage in any “physical or psychological intimidation.” This only fueled determination, and the deal came a week later.

Enter AMPL, the union of law professors, negotiating down to their strike deadline. With no deal after 500 days of bargaining, they walked out on April 24, and picketing began in front of the Faculty of Law, on Peel St. at the corner of Docteur-Penfield Ave in Montreal.

Not only had their employer stalled all this time, refusing to bargain, they even challenged the union certification through a judicial review. Said Richard Janda, the AMPL chief negotiator: “McGill’s refusal to negotiate standard clauses that every other university has triggered this strike.” Of course, real-wage declines are also at stake, better working conditions, and a single pension for all. Support immediately poured in from across Quebec and Canada for this small but mighty new union of 40 members.

Seeing McGill hit twice in one semester by strikes with such strong support almost rivals a total solar eclipse – whether you number 1,600 or 40.


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