AGSEM, the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill, first became a union in 1993 with the certification of the university’s teaching assistants. In March 2010, invigilators (Unit II of AGSEM) were accredited.
Course lecturers and instructors at McGill won accreditation in August 2011 as the third unit of AGSEM. On October 17, 2013 the union voted with a unanimous vote to allow McGill Course Lecturers and Instructors Union (MCLIU) to exclusively represent course lecturers and instructors employed at McGill by transferring the certificate of accreditation. The Commission de Relation du Travail transferred the accreditation to MCLIU in November 2013, making MCLIU the sole representative of course lecturers and instructors at McGill.
How the union drive started
It had become clear that McGill lecturers were underpaid and did not enjoy the same working conditions as lecturers and instructors in other universities in Quebec and Canada. Thus, in the fall of 2010, the union launched a new drive to unionize course lecturers and instructors at McGill.
Our cause was generously supported by staff unions MUNACA and AMUSE, the student unions SSMU and PGSS, and a letter of support signed by 26 McGill professors. Even before we were accredited, the McGill administration responded to our union drive by substantially raising the salaries of course lecturers and instructors. This was not an act of kindness on the part of the administration, but was rather an attempt to convince lecturers not to unionize.
By continuing to sign cards, lecturers and instructors clearly indicated to the administration that this was too little too late, and moreover, that salary was not the only issue at stake. Unionization was not just a way for course lecturers to redress inequalities in pay, but equally a means of tackling problems with working conditions that they faced on a daily basis. The union drive culminated with course lecturers and instructors becoming certified on August 30, 2011.
Since then we have pushed on ahead, putting together a bargaining proposal, the product of months of consultations with members and a thorough analysis of working conditions at other Quebec universities. Our bargaining demands were approved unanimously in December of 2011 at a general assembly, and our demands on two remaining issues – course attribution and hiring priority – were approved by an overwhelming majority at a second assembly in February of 2012.
Our first Collective Agreement was signed in October 2015.