On November 7, Judge Jean-François Séguin of the Tribunal administratif du travail (TAT) made a historic decision regarding industrial relations at Quebec universities: the McGill Association of Law Professors (AMPD) received court approval to form the first faculty union at McGill University. After months of sometimes heated virtual and in-person hearings, TAT’s decision came exactly one year to the day after AMPD submitted its application for certification.
The pandemic as a trigger
The start of the fall 2021 school year was marked by tensions between law professors and the McGill administration. At that time, the debate about the introduction of compulsory vaccination raged. A letter signed by 35 members of the law school had been circulated arguing that it was possible to make vaccination mandatory in line with the Charter on Human Rights and Freedoms. The McGill administration had not changed its position: it would not make vaccination mandatory on its campus and denied that its approach posed an undue risk to vulnerable members of its community. By rejecting the arguments put forward in the letter, “the university’s response was to teach law to law professors,” asserts the offense Professor Richard Janda, Board Member of the AMPD. In connection with the requirement for disciplinary law classroom teaching, this situation would have “dramatically dramatized the desire of law professors to participate in the design of guidelines [qui leur sont] applicable,” emphasizes Professor Janda.
“The university response was to teach law professors law”
Professor Richard Janda
According to Professor Janda, McGill’s response to the pandemic would have been symptomatic of a “strong tendency towards centralization” within the university. “The university has become a much more corporate entity in its organization and governance, and professors are not consulted,” he says. Professors are thus in a vulnerable situation vis-à-vis the university, being “penniless” in situations such as the dismissal of a colleague.
For Professor Janda it is crucial to preserve the autonomy of the law faculty and for this it is necessary “that the faculty council becomes a place of decision-making again”. It is a reminder of the uniqueness of the law school
– bilingual and cross-system – to highlight the importance of a higher education policy that reflects the specific reality of the Chancellor’s Day pavilion.
The decision and the hearings preceding it
The unique reality of the Faculty of Law was a crucial element of the Administrative Labor Court’s analysis. In fact, the university disputed the validity of the AMPD as a proposed bargaining unit, arguing that the relevant unit should instead include all professors in their tenure. However, the court was unconvinced by McGill’s arguments that the law school, like all other faculties and departments, was just a part of the university’s “extremely centralized” whole. The court also noted that it was not irrelevant that McGill himself acknowledged that “the law school professors may form their own group.”
The offensive was able to attend several virtual TAT hearings, including cross-examinations of Provost Christopher Manfredi and Dean of Law Robert Leckey. The exchanges between the lawyers of the association and the employers Me Sibel Ataogul and Me Corrado De Stefano were sometimes stormy, especially during the numerous objections. On several occasions, Judge Jean-François Séguin has had to intervene, acknowledging that “things are getting hot.[ai]ent” and took a “slightly messy” turn, urging attorneys to “calm things down.”
Should we fear the strike?
When asked whether the law faculty students now had to fear a strike by their professors, Professor Janda wanted to calm her down. “The Labor Code is quite well drafted,” he says, “to prevent the negotiation of the first collective agreement from leading to a strike situation.” Furthermore, according to the professor, the main demands of the AMPD will relate to issues of governance, autonomy and transparency at the law school level, rather than purely economic issues. “It’s not the day before yesterday that law professors will want to go on strike to get their salaries raised,” he adds.
“The law professors will not want to go on strike tomorrow the day before yesterday to insist on salary increases.”
Professor Richard Janda
Although Professor Janda believes that the situation is unlikely to develop in the direction of the strike, he believes a decision by the university could turn the tide. If McGill decides to initiate a judicial review process (the mechanism for appealing administrative court decisions), it would be taking a risk
to “poison the reports [entre l’Association et l’Université] right from the start,” says the professor.
So far, the university has not publicly waived the right to seek a judicial review of the TAT’s decision. She has 30 days after the publication of the decision, ie until December 7th, to announce her intentions. Asked by The offensivethe university limited itself to saying, through its media officer Frédérique Mazerolle, that it “acknowledges the decision that has been made” and will “review the decision carefully in the coming weeks”.
What effects on students?
When asked what will change specifically for the law faculty students as a result of the court’s decision, Professor Janda expects positive consequences: “If we succeed in making the management of the faculty more robust and the faculty council gains in importance, the voice Indeed, student representatives sit on the faculty council and, according to Professor Janda, have already used this position to contribute to the development of the faculty, particularly by driving the adoption of the transsystemic curriculum.
” I think the presence of the students at the hearings sent a message to McGill indicating that this is an issue that we are monitoring closely and want to raise awareness of »
Casey Broughton, sophomore law student
Casey Broughton, a sophomore in law, reiterates this hope of positive impact for students on the faculty: There is a greater chance for strong solidarity between faculty and students Casey showed his support for his professors’ cause by writing letters to Dean Leckey and changing his Zoom profile picture to include the message ” Get them unionized (Get them unionized)” and virtual and in-person attendance at TAT hearings. She wasn’t the only one: I think the presence of the students at the hearings sent a message to McGill indicating that this is an issue that we are monitoring closely and want to raise awareness of.»
Brings McGill back into the Quebec context
Referring to the context that preceded the AMPD’s organizing efforts, Professor Janda notes that the state of industrial relations at McGill appeared to reflect a more 1960s mentality than the reality in Quebec,” he says. Indeed, until now, McGill has differed from other universities in the province in that it did not have a faculty association. “With what just happened, the law school is joining the community of Quebec,” says Professor Richard Janda.