Photo by Kyle West

By: Maanvi Dhillon

Voter turnout in the 2019 McMaster Students Union presidential election fell 1.2 per cent from last year, marking the lowest rate since 2012.

Just two years ago, voter turnout sat at 41.6 per cent and saw 9,327 student voters.

“The voter turnout rate continues the impressive upward trend in McMaster student voter turnout, and marks five consecutive years with more than 40 per cent of students voting in the MSU Presidential election,” reads a statement on the MSU website from 2017.

This ‘upward trend’ did not continue the following year. In particular, the 2018 election saw voter turnout fall 13.6 points.

Following last year’s election, the MSU elections department promptly investigated the sharp decline in voter turnout.

After finding no issues with the voting software, Simply Voting, low turnout was estimated to have been caused by students opting out of receiving elections emails.

“Students who voluntarily opted-out of emails from the MSU’s election software provider, as per Canadian anti-spam legislation, did not receive future emails,” said Uwais Patel, the MSU’s chief returning officer.

Patel pointed out that this did not necessarily prevent students from voting in the election as they could have received a ballot if requested. However, it still likely would have reduced their likelihood of voting.

Low voter turnout is a serious concern given the role and position of the MSU president, who Patel describes as “an important representative who will help shape the student experience for years to come.”

As a result of the change, in this year’s election, students were able to

access their online ballot with their Mac ID instead of email.

Students were also enabled to use a general link and log in with their McMaster login information, eliminating the necessity of email for access and making the process fit more naturally with other online McMaster activity, like accessing Mosaic or Avenue to Learn.

For these reasons, Patel believed the transition would make “voting more accessible and the process of voting more reliable.”

Before the election, Patel was confident that the MSU Elections’ lineup of strategies would give students access to the details they need to easily vote.

“Using resources and technology, we are maximizing the way we deliver… information,” said Patel. “By voting and engaging with the election this year, students can be confident in who they elect as MSU President to represent them on issues pertaining to student life and advocacy,” said Patel.

In effort to increase voter turnout, the elections department also released an instructional video showing how to vote.

They also asked committee members and MSU Maroons to promote the election on campus and encourage students to vote.

However, this year’s drop in voter turnout suggests that the new voting system and array of promotional efforts did not sufficiently improve the turnout rate.

This year’s notably low voter turnout casts doubt over the new MSU president’s capacity to ‘represent’ McMaster’s nearly 30,000 undergraduates when only 6,576 voted in the election.

 

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Photos by Catherine Goce

By: Donna Nadeem

On Jan. 22, Arig al Shaibah, the associate vice-president (Equity and Inclusion) with the McMaster equity and inclusion office, held an event in the Mills Library Connections Centre centered around McMaster’s “Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Framework and Strategy.”

During her term, al Shaibah plans to engage with local and historically underrepresented and marginalized communities to understand and learn about their challenges.

She hopes this awareness will enable her to build strong ideas and strategies to advance the equity and inclusion goals at McMaster.

The event begin with al Shaibah’s presentation on McMaster’s EDI framework and strategy.

McMaster’s EDI framework is broken down into four pillars: institutional commitment and capacity, educational content and context, interactional capabilities and climate and compositional diversity and community engagement.

 

The first pillar aims to “mobilize McMaster’s commitment and capacity to advance inclusive excellence by establishing and resourcing structures, systems, policies and processes that facilitate equity, diversity and inclusion leadership, governance and accountability.”

The second pillar seeks to strengthen academic programs, practices and scholarships to ensure they “demonstrate relevance… to diverse local, regional, national and global communities.”

The third pillar focuses on improving the McMaster community’s ability to foster a culture of inclusion and an environment where members feel “a sense of dignity and belonging.”

The fourth pillar aims to engage marginalized communities on campus, enhance employment equity, and improve student access and success amongst historically underrepresented students and community members.

“Not everyone here feels included, so even among our diverse [community population], some of us may feel included and others not, in part because of inequities that exist,” said al Shaibah.

Al Shaibah explained an action plan that would help facilitate the development of the EDI plan.

Some of the points included developing goals across the institution and faculties and integrating the EDI into academic programs and self-reported student experiences, strengthening complaint resolution from harassment and discrimination complaints and increasing training for McMaster community members and committees.

Throughout the presentation, al Shaibah spoke in abstract terms, not outlining specific initiatives that the university will undertake take to improve student access and success amongst marginalized students and training for McMaster community members.

After the presentation, the floor was open for students to express concerns and feedback.

Students asked for more clarity about McMaster’s plans to meet the objectives stipulated in the EDI.

Even after students pressed further, Shaibah still failed to clarify what in particular she would do to work to combat the problems she raised.

One student expressed concern over the fact that his friend who is of Indigenous descent was not able to obtain a Teaching Assistant position for an Indigenous course while a student who was not of Indigenous heritage successfully secured the position.

Al Shaibah responded that if the candidates’ qualifications were equal, the Indigenous students’ application should have been prioritized.

Students also asked about whether other universities have implemented this EDI framework and whether it has been successful for them.

Al Shaibah said that some schools have explored strategies similar to this, but have not pursued an ‘across the board’ strategy that applied to faculties across the entire institution.

In addition, students asked how they could get involved with the implementation of the strategy.

According to Al Shaibah, McMaster students can promote the EDI framework through clubs and the McMaster Students Union. Students can also contact McMaster’s equity and inclusion office at equity@mcmaster.ca.

 

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In April 2017, an agreement between The Building Union of Canada on behalf of the Operation and Maintenance Staff of McMaster and the university was reached to update the Pay Equity Plan. Effective Oct. 8, all cleaning staff, regardless of job title, will be paid identical wages. This does not include wage increases due to experience.

This conclusion has been overdue for decades. At a Board of Governors meeting on Oct. 21, 2010, they voted to ratify the tentative agreements between the University and the Service Employees International Union, the ones representing the staff at the time. These negotiations left a lot to be desired.

84 full-time employees were assigned wages at or below the poverty line without dental or health coverage benefits. Part-time employees were left even worse off as they were non-unionized until the mid-2000s, and their recency became a disadvantage. It resulted in a 25 per cent reduction in pay for cleaners according to Peter Foulds, director of operations for BUC.

The BUC took over in August 2013. Using arguments related to the living wage, a heavily researched concept at McMaster, points made in Patrick Deane’s “Forward with Integrity” paper, arbitration and digging into the specifics of old agreements, they eventually got to a point where they could renegotiate.

After lawyers, government officials and a large amount of legal back and forth, the university conceded that they had not had proper pay equity practices in place for an extensive period of time dating to before the 2010 agreement.

This agreement from April includes pay increases between 5.2 per cent and 21 per cent for staff, lump sum payments to compensate for the failure to maintain the pay equity and represents the first monetary increase since that 2010 date.

Foulds believes that McMaster is now treating its employees fairly. The legal progress and agreements are one that the union, the university and the staff are happy with.

The next steps relate to the potential for the Ontario government to push forward additional legislation on the minimum wage in the province. Another, more immediate process currently in progress is a grievance filed related to parking privileges during employees’ night shift. The next meeting for this is expected to take place on Aug. 3.

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Alex Rockingham

Silhouette Intern

 

An agreement has been reached between McMaster administration and CUPE 3906, a union representing the University’s Teaching and Research Assistants.

Two weeks ago, the union approved a strike mandate, demanding wage increases and benefit improvements. In the end, the strike was not implemented, as both parties reached a settlement through negotiation.

A tentative agreement was reached late on Nov. 17 after a series of thirteen bargaining dates. Based on the details released pertaining to the agreement, it appears that the days of hard haggling have paid off for the TA and RA union.

CUPE 3906’s bargaining team was able to negotiate wage increases for both McMaster graduate and undergraduate employees, as well as improvements for their benefits, such as the union’s Family Dental Plan.

Other gains made by the bargaining team include a bi-weekly payment system, the settlement of eight outstanding health and safety training grievances, and paid printing costs.

The ratification vote process ran on campus from Nov. 21 to Nov 23, and the union ultimately ratified the agreement. Bulletins outlining the agreement details are available at CUPE 3906’s website.

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