McGill Casual Worker Strike Comes to a Close at Snowden Video Conference

AMUSE marches through Leacock 132 condemning attendees (credit: @elenarazlogova)

In light of the Association of McGill University Support Employee’s (AMUSE) five-day strike, CKUT sat down with one of their executives and bargaining members to address their reasons for their work stoppage from October 29th to November 2nd. 82% of the AMUSE members who showed up for the strike vote voted in favour of strike action on October 20th.

AMUSE, McGill’s contract worker union, represents 1500 workers who work all across campus, including Athletics, the McGill Bookstore, and Enrolment Services. The strike was sparked by an impasse in AMUSE’s negotiations with McGill, specifically on the clause regarding McGill’s Work Study program. However, casual worker dissatisfaction ran much deeper, particularly for employees who were not students. More information in the above embedded interview.

The interview was carried out on Monday, the half-way point of their five-day strike. At that point, AMUSE had disrupted various on-campus operations and events, including sporting events and McGill’s Open House. They had also started a hashtag – #istandwithAMUSE – for people to share their experiences on social media. Or pose for a selfie with a sign.

No employees were hired to scab their work, likely because they had declared an end date to the strike. However, Open House did see various full-time permanent employees and higher-up administrators carrying out their work, such as giving campus tours.

The highest profile event that AMUSE disrupted during their strike was Media@McGill’s video conference with Edward Snowden. Before the talk started, AMUSE marched through the lecture hall, shaming the room for crossing their picket lines. A mixture of cheers, jeers and boos ensued. AMUSE picketed all the entrances, handing out flyers which described their conditions, why not to cross their picket line, and that they did not intend to stand against Edward Snowden’s message. Picketers underscored that their picket lines were to draw attention to Media@McGill’s history of ad hoc, precarious contracts.

Nevertheless, a picket line was set up at the entrance for media. A rally also set up camp among the line of hopeful attendees, pushing the message that their rally was the better activity for the evening (The line for Snowden snaked from Leacock, past the Arts Building, down the stairs to McConnell and up all the way to Trottier).

Ironically, Snowden expressed sympathy for their cause saying that “It’s very very very hard to be the least popular person in the room.” And yet at the same time, he also expressed apprehension about journalists being treated as regular citizens (in the context of recent findings that the SPVM and SQ have been tapping journalist communications for information).

Notably, strike pay was only available to workers who chose to work at least a four-hour strike shift. Strike pay was $53 for a four-hour picket shift if you worked under 20 hours a week and $75 for a four-hour picket shift if you worked over 20 hours a week. If members worked more than one AMUSE job, they were told to combine the hours to calculate the total. Several members expressed to CKUT about their discomfort with being compensated only if they picketed. Interestingly enough, Snowden had brought up the right to being a private citizen in his video conference, specifically the right to understanding how governing bodies made their decisions (“Why shouldn’t we get compensated if we don’t picket?”) and the right to keeping controversial views private (“I don’t want to picket in the rain”).

Casual workers have returned to their posts as of Thursday November 3rd and hope to hear updates with negotiations with McGill that will restart November 10th.

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