Around 1,600 teaching assistants at McGill University announced that they would be on strike starting Monday just as the final sprint of the winter semester begins.

Teaching assistants (TAs) at the university voted 87.5 per cent in favour of an eight-week strike mandate last week.

The main point in dispute remains salaries, said Fanny Teissandier, an anthropology TA since fall 2023.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, she said that the negotiations aim to reduce the disparity between the average salaries offered at McGill and those of other similar universities, which stand at $46.36/hour.

“There is really a very, very big difference when we know that the salaries of teaching assistants (at McGill) amount to $33.03,” she said.

National Federation of Teachers of Quebec-CSN (FNEEQ-CSN) vice president Christine Gauthier responded in a news release on Saturday.

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“The negotiation was disappointing for the union, as the negotiating committee demonstrated flexibility and received very little in return from the university,” she said. “The strike mandate is strong and our members will not back down until they have obtained a respectful salary offer.”

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The workers also want the course hours allocated to them to be indexed in relation to the number of students, a measure which would guarantee them a certain number of hours.

“McGill is reducing the hours contracted to teaching assistants (which) endangers the pay of teaching assistants and also jeopardizes the quality of education that teaching assistants are capable of providing,” said Teissandier.

The negotiating committee is made up of three members of the Association of Graduate Student Employees of McGill (AÉÉDEM) and an advisor from the FNEEQ-CSN.

Negotiations regarding the renewal of the collective agreement for these workers began last September.

Starting Monday, a strike fund will be available to teaching assistants.

If they participate in 20 hours of weekly strike activity, they will be eligible for $350 per week, the majority being paid by the FNEEQ-CSN.

Impact on students

Teaching assistants are graduate students registered at McGill University who help and supervise students in their studies.

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They are often responsible for correcting academic work, leading seminars, taking care of certain administrative tasks and responding to emails, in addition to meeting with students outside of class hours to help with work and exam prep.

According to Teissandier, the strike could have repercussions on undergraduate students.

“These repercussions will really depend on the duration of the strike. Otherwise, indeed, undergraduate students could have difficulty obtaining their final grades for the courses in which they are currently registered,” she said.

She hopes that the university will not drag out the labour dispute until the end of the term.

“Teaching assistants are truly essential workers,” she added. “It is time that teaching assistants are treated with respect and dignity to protect their living conditions, but also McGill’s educational mission.”

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