Strike Action At 24 Ontario Colleges


MORE than 12,000 OPSEU (Ontario Public Service Employees Union) college faculty members have been striking at 24 Ontario colleges since Monday October 16.

The over 12,000 professors, counsellors and librarians at the 24 colleges are fighting against short-term, insecure employment. They are demanding that at least half of all faculty employees must be on full-time contracts and for more stable contracts for all employees lasting at least a year duration, as well as better pay and a collegial senate model.

The College Employer Council claims that if the schools meet the union’s demand to make half of all faculty employees full-time, it would cost more than $250 million and lead to a net loss of 3,350 contract positions. But the union refutes the claim, arguing that ensuring academic freedom and longer contracts for faculty members are ‘no-cost items’ for the colleges. However, they haven’t been able to come to an agreement with the College Employer Council on the issues.

Vicky Panteleakos, a ‘partial load’ teacher at Ottawa’s Collège La Cité in the respiratory therapy programme, spoke about the uncertainty that comes with contract work. Her contracts at the college are 15 weeks, which give her stability only on a short-term basis. She says while it makes it hard for her, it can also be hard for students.

‘It’s not to the advantage of a student to have a bunch of teachers on partial loads,’ she said. ‘If the college offered full time, I’d take it. Because I love it.’

Liz Brockest, 34, has been a part-time teacher (partial load) for the last seven years, and has delayed having children because of her precarious employment. ”I’m delaying any plans to have kids because I don’t even have job security to know that I can provide for my family,’ said the 34-year-old teacher in the Transitions to Post-Secondary Education Programme at George Brown.

Speaking on the picket line at the downtown campus, she talked about the perils of juggling multiple gigs just to pay rent and other bills. Brockest, one of thousands of faculty members across Ontario colleges on strike, has to reapply for the same job every semester. ”It’s incredibly stressful,’ she said, never sure about her next contract and what courses she’ll be allowed to teach. ‘I teach courses about equity, fairness, human rights, and I’m in an environment where my employer is not providing the same things to me.’

Tens of thousands of college students across Ontario have had classes cancelled since the strike began on Monday. The picket lines at Loyalist College swelled with students joining in to show support for striking faculty members. Students from the film and television programme showed up last Thursday morning to join their teachers on the picket line for the fourth day of the province-wide college teachers’ strike.

Sarah Michael and Nick Vinnicombe, a pair of third-year students from that programme and helped organise their classmates to join the teachers. They said the effort was to show support as well as educate both students and the public. ‘We see things on Facebook where people are assuming the strike is about the professors getting more money, when really it’s about them making the education system better for us,’ Vinnicombe said.

‘We’re hoping that if we assembled students for the picket line it would show people passing by that we support what they are doing and it might also prompt those people to do a little research to find out exactly what’s going on.’

Michael, a Belleville student, said the students fully support faculty’s demands for more control with educational issues concerning student grading. ‘This started with film and television students because we’ve had the same teachers for three years and they have been amazing to us,’ she said.

‘We would prefer there be no strike, but it’s not the strike that will hurt our education, it’s already been hurt and our teachers just want to fix it. The (College Employer Council) needs to realise that students want change as well and it’s not just the teachers.’

The pair said some of their college mates are heading home until the strike is resolved while others are choosing to stay and utilise facilities at the school in an effort to stay on top of their studies. Our programme is really project-based in the third year so we already know what we have to do and we can work away at it and show the professors when the strike ends,’ Vinnicombe said.

Unfortunately, a lot of programmes are really lecture-based and those students are really suffering right now.’ They said students from other programs are also planning to join the picket lines and students from the nursing programme were coming to the line on Thursday afternoon.

‘We’d definitely like to be a full-time presence but we do have to keep up with our studies,’ Michael said. ‘Students can come here any time they’d like, but depending on how long the strike goes, if there is other days when we can all get together we’ll probably do that.’

President of Local 420, Eric Bauer, a professor in the environmental studies department at Loyalist, said the students understand the issues surrounding the strike by 12,000 faculty members across the province. At Loyalist, 109 full time and another 80 partial-load teachers represented by OPSEU are walking the picket line.

Another 230 contract faculty members are not represented by the union. Bauer said the union would like to see a 50:50 ratio of full time and contract faculty. ‘Students realise the issues we’re standing for out here on the picket line are essential to the quality of their education, so we’ve had quite an outreach from students here at Loyalist saying they would like to come out and support those issues surrounding their education,’ he said.

‘They live the experience in their classrooms and they definitely want to see positive change for a secure compliment of full-time faculty in the classroom so their experience is improved.’

Bauer said striking faculty are angry at the lack of movement by management. ‘Currently there’s no movement and we’re waiting patiently to hear the Employer Council is ready to go back to the negotiating table,’ he said.

‘As the days tick by our patience becomes less and most certainly we want to be back in the classroom – this is just unacceptable and we need to get a contract hammered out because the students deserve to have us in the classroom.’

The Nipissing University Faculty Association says it stands in solidarity with the faculty on strike at Canadore College. ‘We share OPSEU’s concerns about shared governance and the exploitation of precarious contract faculty,’ said NUFA President Amanda Burk.

‘There are serious consequences, academic and otherwise when decisions are made without the input of the faculty who are the ones working with students on the front lines. There are also serious consequences when the vast majority of courses being offered are taught by exploited, underpaid contract workers who have no job security beyond one semester.’