Stu­dents look­ing for an­swers

The Niagara Falls Review - - NEWS - AL­LAN BENNER ABen­ner@post­media.com twit­ter.com/aben­ner1

Col­lege stu­dents were al­ready start­ing to wor­ry­ing af­ter los­ing a few weeks of time in the class­room.

Now, as their teach­ers rep­re­sented by On­tario Pub­lic Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees Union enter the fifth week on picket lines, “that anx­i­ety, that ner­vous­ness” stu­dents are feel­ing “has only been grow­ing,” said Ryan Huckla, pres­i­dent of Ni­a­gara Col­lege’s stu­dent ad­min­is­tra­tive coun­cil.

“The thing is, they’re look­ing for an­swers and there’s just so much un­cer­tainty about the strike, and whether or not they will strike a deal,” he said. “Stu­dents are look­ing at their se­mes­ter and they’re do­ing the math and say­ing, ‘I’ve been out of school now for four weeks.”

At the re­quest of the Col­lege Em­ployer Coun­cil, the On­tario Labour Re­la­tions Board has or­dered that strik­ing fac­ulty mem­bers from the prov­ince’s 24 col­leges vote on the coun­cil’s latest of­fer start­ing to­day at 9 a.m. and end­ing Thurs­day at 10 a.m.

If ap­proved, fac­ulty would start be­ing paid by Fri­day, and stu­dents could re­turn to class as early as next Tues­day, said Col­lege Em­ployer Coun­cil bar­gain­ing

team chair Sonia Del Missier, during a we­b­cast in­tended for strik­ing teach­ers, on Mon­day morn­ing.

“This vote is your op­por­tu­nity to end the strike now and get stu­dents and fac­ulty back in the class­room as soon as pos­si­ble,” she said. “We need to end this strike now — and get fac­ulty and stu­dents back in the class­room.”

In an email, Ni­a­gara Col­lege com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager Mike Wales con­firmed that a yes vote from fac­ulty “will bring our stu­dents and fac­ulty back into the class­room by early next week and al­low us to move forward with our se­mes­ter com­ple­tion plans.”

Huckla is ea­ger to hear the re­sults of the vote.

“It’s a huge kind of item that could pos­si­bly end the strike,” he said.

If the vote fails, he said stu­dents are “still look­ing at gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion, say­ing we’re five weeks in, when is the gov­ern­ment go­ing to step in and get them back to work?”

While Huckla and stu­dents from across the prov­ince are hop­ing the votes this week will end the strike, he said they re­main con­cerned about sal­vaging the rem­nants of the se­mes­ter.

The lo­cal stu­dent coun­cil of­fice in­cluded re­search about past strikes as part of a strike up­date posted on its web­site — nc­sac.ca — point­ing out that the col­lege sys­tem has never lost a se­mes­ter due to a strike, de­spite past strikes that lasted 28 days in 1989, 24 days in 1984, and 18 days in 2006.

Huckla said mak­ing up lost classes will likely mean stu­dents will lose their hol­i­day break, and prob­a­bly the spring break, too.

He said no one at Ni­a­gara Col­lege is talk­ing about los­ing the se­mes­ter.

“For the stu­dents to fin­ish their aca­demic semesters on time, or as close to on time as we can get, it’s those weeks that have to be com­pro­mised,” he said.

“The stu­dents are the real losers in this sit­u­a­tion. It’s not fair to them.”

Mean­while, Huckla pointed out that other work­ers have been im­pacted fi­nan­cially, too.

Huckla, how­ever, said Ni­a­gara Col­lege ad­min­is­tra­tors seem to be lis­ten­ing to the concerns re­lated by the stu­dent union, while also keep­ing them in­formed about the process go­ing on.

At noon on Thurs­day, a stu­dent group calling themselves “Get your ass to class” is plan­ning a rally at col­lege cam­puses across the prov­ince.

“Stu­dents from ev­ery cam­pus in On­tario will be fill­ing the hall­ways and classes of On­tario col­leges, to show to ev­ery­one, we are ready to learn,” the or­ga­ni­za­tion says in an email sent to me­dia out­lets. “This is not a protest but a peace­ful sit-in and demon­stra­tion of the power of the stu­dent voice. This event is aimed at de­liv­er­ing the mes­sage that pol­i­tics should not stand in the way of our future.”

Al­though Ni­a­gara Col­lege’s stu­dent union is not of­fi­cially sanc­tion­ing that ac­tion, Huckla said stu­dents are wel­come to par­tic­i­pate if they choose.

During the Col­lege Em­ployer Coun­cil we­b­cast, Del Missier as­sured teach­ers that the con­tract of­fer which OPSEU unan­i­mously rec­om­mended against sup­port­ing “con­tains all of the items that we and the union team agreed upon.”

“Noth­ing has been re­moved, noth­ing has been added that will neg­a­tively im­pact fac­ulty — these are pos­i­tive gains,” she said.

“The union is telling you that this is a dif­fer­ent of­fer than what we worked on with the union — one with con­ces­sions, one that will harm fac­ulty. All I can say is this isn’t true.”

High­lights in­clude a 7.75 per cent salary hike over four years to a max­i­mum of $115,378, im­proved ben­e­fits, im­prove­ments for con­tract teach­ers, and sup­port for a “gov­ern­ment-led task force on the future of On­tario col­leges, in­clud­ing staffing mod­els and pre­car­i­ous work.”

OPSEU also is­sued a state­ment Mon­day morn­ing, ad­vis­ing teach­ers “to stand strong and vote to re­ject” the col­lege’s of­fer.

The union said the of­fer al­lows col­leges to ex­pand con­tract fac­ulty without re­stric­tion, while avoid­ing pay­ing equal pay for equal work, de­creases full-time jobs, and does noth­ing to rec­og­nize the need for aca­demic free­dom for teach­ers.

Del Missier said the im­passe that con­tin­ues to stall ne­go­ti­a­tions “is com­pletely frus­trat­ing for us and for you, but I know that our frus­tra­tion is noth­ing com­pared with the frus­tra­tion that 500,000 stu­dents out of class are feel­ing right now.”

Huckla

Wales

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