Looming threat of walkout
Ontario college teachers could be out on the picket lines as early as this Monday
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union has given notice that college teachers could be on the picket line as early as Monday.
OPSEU and the College Employer Council were back at the negotiating table on Tuesday, but a release from the CEC late Tuesday stated the union “rejected the colleges’ final offer of settlement.”
Sonia Del Missier, chairwoman of the colleges’ bargaining team, said in the release the final offer was responsive to what they had heard from faculty.
“Unfortunately, the OPSEU Academic team continues to choose the path toward an unnecessary strike that would be a terrible outcome for our students. We are asking the union to let faculty decide by putting the colleges’ final offer to a vote and avoid a strike.”
Del Missier spoke to The Daily Press hours before the strike notice and said she wanted to reassure students.
“We don’t want a strike. In the event that there is a strike, colleges do have contingency plans in place. We want to reassure students that in the previous labour disruptions, students have not lost any year. There are plans in place to minimize the impact on the students’ experience.”
OPSEU rolled out a provincewide ad campaign over the weekend, hoping to “educate the public and our students as well,” said Lad Shaba, OPSEU Local 653 president and an instructor at Northern College.
“We’re hoping that (students) will put pressure on the administration through their student organizations to make sure that there’s a resolution on the table.”
The message seemed to have reachedtimmins’northerncollege Student Association, which shared one of the ads on its Facebook page on Sunday.
“People always think it comes down to money,” Shaba said, arguing that isn’t the case. The union is concerned about the number of contract faculty members and limited ability to make academic decisions.
Del Missier, chairwoman of the CEC’S bargaining team, said there are good reasons for some faculty being part-time or contract.
“The staff are programmed based on the needs of the program,” Del Missier explained Tuesday. “The example I always used is you have specialized courses, for example, in dental hygiene, which calls for a highly specialized skill, let’s say a dentist.
“Those individuals would certainly be providing the support, the expertise. They would not be looking for a full-time position.”
Del Missier also responded to Shaba’s concerns about academic decision-making.
“Academic control exclusivity is not something that we can support, and it certainly cannot have administration be restricted in their oversight of academic delivery,” she said, pointing to other players like program advisory committees and accreditation bodies.
“We believe faculty are central and critical to the academic decision-making, and they do play a very, very important role, however, they are not the only stakeholders.”
Still, Shaba is frustrated by the effects of contract faculty on his role as a professor in the school of engineering technology.
“Some of us that are left, we find ourselves doing those guys’ work because they’re never around when students need them. They’re never around. That’s just not a way to run a very efficient organization,” he said.
Parties were back at the table on Tuesday. Shaba described the negotiations so far as “very strange.”
“We came in with what we felt was fair, and they’re still pretty much fair, and the other side hasn’t moved from their position since June or even May,” he said. “They haven’t moved at all.”
Both Del Missier and Shaba said students are on their minds while they work out a new contract for college faculty across the province.
Shaba said, “Hang in there, because a good working environment for us would be a good learning environment for them. This is not all about us, it’s about them too.”
OPSEU did not provide a release on Tuesday evening regarding the strike notice before press time.