Support staff at McGill residences will now get paid

Despite the light and friendly-sounding job title, being a floor fellow in a McGill University residence is a lot of work.

Students who take the role (similar to a resident advisor at other universities) supporting young students as they adjust to university, doing everything from offering guidance on university services, to making sure a student who has had too much to drink gets through the night, something floor fellow Tuviere Onookome-Okome details.

"If they're really unresponsive, [floor fellows] are in charge of calling 911, a lot of floor fellows will hop in the ambulance and take them to hospital, they'll also help them figure out the bills...they're doing so much, especially at weird horus like 3 a.m. And they have to go to class the next day."

But for years, McGill University was not paying those students a wage, instead giving them free accommodation.

That has changed now: McGill is being forced to give back pay to around 150 current and former students who worked as floor fellows in its residences.

Onookome-Okome is the floor fellow vice president at AMUSE, the union for support employees at the university, and helped organize floor fellows.

Attempts to get wages out of the university began in 2013, when floor fellows started filing requests for back pay, but it was only recently that the university reached a settlement ensuring such staff will get paid, something Onookome-Okome said is essential.

"Young people who are working need to be paid, because they also have expenses...to not be paying them is in itself unjust and is not equitable because you're saying the work they're doing is not worth payment."

Onookome-Okome said that the arrangement where floor fellows would perform their roles in exchange for accommodation in a residence was not fair, because for their role, floor fellows did not have any option to live outside university residences. 

"Free accommodation isn't payment, it's a stipulation for the job. You can't pay someone with something they have to do, and floor fellows have to live in residence to do their jobs properly."

The university will provide limited back pay to around 150 students who worked as floor fellows since 2013, and starting this September, will pay floor fellows $13.15 per hour.