Stu­dents want back in class

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - FRONT PAGE - RON­ALD ZA­JAC

A hand­ful of stu­dents from Brockville’s St. Lawrence Col­lege cam­pus joined a provincewide protest Tues­day call­ing on the prov­ince to end the per­sist­ing fac­ulty strike.

Five stu­dents from the lo­cal cam­pus held plac­ards in front of Leeds- Grenville MPP Steve Clark’s of­fice around 9 a.m., part of an On­tar­i­owide stu­dent ef­fort co­in­cid­ing with three days of vot­ing on an of­fer from the Col­lege Em­ployer Coun­cil.

(Please see re­lated story on Page A4.)

Brockville protest or­ga­nizer Kris­ten Ech­lin said she is per­son­ally on the side of fac­ulty, but the stu­dent demon­stra­tors are not tak­ing sides in the dis­pute.

Rather, they are call­ing on Pre­mier Kathleen Wynne to en­act back-to-work leg­is­la­tion.

“We just want to get back to class,” said Ech­lin.

“Kathleen Wynne, where the hell is she? This is the long­est strike in his­tory and she’s not step­ping up.”

The stu­dents were planning to protest in front of Clark’s Strowger Boule­vard of­fice again Wed­nes­day morn­ing, fol­lowed by an “Ass to Class” sit-in at the cam­pus on Thurs­day.

Half a mil­lion col­lege stu­dents across On­tario, in­clud­ing about 6,000 stu­dents at St. Lawrence Col­lege, have been out of class since Oct. 15, when 12,000 col­lege pro­fes­sors, in­struc­tors, coun­sel­lors and li­brar­i­ans went on strike.

Ech­lin, 28, who is study­ing in the Bach­e­lor of Sci­ence in Nurs­ing pro­gram, also works as a reg­is­tered prac­ti­cal nurse and has to sup­port two chil­dren.

“If they ex­tend the se­mes­ter for a month (af­ter the strike) I’m not go­ing to be able to work for a month,” she said.

Other stu­dents across the prov­ince face even tougher crises, added Ech­lin, cit­ing re­ports of stu­dents who have lost ac­cess to men­tal health ser­vices.

She hopes back-to-work mea­sures will lead to me­di­a­tion and a pos­i­tive out­come for strik­ing col­lege work­ers.

The strike is also an un­wel­come in­ter­rup­tion for Steph Merkley, 35, who is study­ing in the men­tal wellness and ad­dic­tions pro­gram.

“I just want to be back in class. It took me 17 years to get here, so I would like to be back,” said Merkley.

The strike is caus­ing other kinds of dis­rup­tions in stu­dents’ lives, added fel­low men­tal wellness and ad­dic­tions stu­dent Mad­die Thomp­son, 19.

“We pay to be there, so we’re los­ing money ev­ery day,” said Thomp­son.

“There’s a lot of stu­dents who can­not go home be­cause they’re from other prov­inces and other coun­tries,” she added.

“We’re just in limbo; we don’t know any­thing,” added Ech­lin.

Nick Morrow, 19, is sup­posed to be study­ing at the Brockville cam­pus through the Com­mu­nity In­te­gra­tion through Co-op­er­a­tive Ed­u­ca­tion (CICE) pro­gram.

“I’m in my first year and I want to get back to class and not see my first year go down the toi­let,” he said.

The two sides are at odds about what the union is call­ing an im­bal­ance of pre­car­i­ous and part-time work, job se­cu­rity and aca­demic free­dom.

The Col­lege Em­ployer Coun­cil said its lat­est of­fer in­cludes a 7.75 per cent salary in­crease over four years, im­proved ben­e­fits – in­clud­ing ex­tended preg­nancy and parental leave, and a $500 in­crease in cov­er­age for paramed­i­cal ser­vices – and mea­sures to ad­dress con­cerns re­gard­ing part-time fac­ulty.

Staff for Clark, a Progressive Con­ser­va­tive MPP, spoke to the Brockville pro­test­ers.

In a tele­phone in­ter­view from Queen’s Park, Clark said: “I’m proud of them for tak­ing a stand.”

“My­self and my cau­cus, we’ve been call­ing on the gov­ern­ment to take a more hands-on ap­proach right from the start,” added Clark.

The lo­cal MPP said he asked the pre­mier about what con­tin­gency plans are in place to save the se­mes­ter and had re­ceived no as­sur­ances so far.

“That lack of an­swer is fu­elling anx­i­ety and stress lev­els felt by the stu­dents,” added Clark.

In an email to The Recorder and Times, Tanya Blaz­ina, a spokes­woman for the Min­istry of Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion and Skills De­vel­op­ment, said the gov­ern­ment’s fo­cus has, from the start, been on the stu­dents.

“That’s why the Min­is­ter is re­quir­ing that colleges estab­lish a ded­i­cated fund with all the sav­ings from the strike. The fund will be used to sup­port stu­dents who have ex­pe­ri­enced fi­nan­cial hard­ships as a re­sult of the strike,” she added.

“Fac­ulty are vot­ing on the em­ployer’s fi­nal of­fer through the in­de­pen­dent On­tario Labour Re­la­tions Board be­gin­ning today and con­tin­u­ing through­out the week. We now need to let that process un­fold,” Blaz­ina con­tin­ued.

I just want to be back in class. It took me 17 years to get here, so I would like to be back,” Steph Merkley

RON­ALD ZA­JAC/THE RECORDER AND TIMES

From left, Nick Morrow, Kourt­ney Kelly and Kris­ten Ech­lin take part in a protest out­side Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark's of­fice on Tues­day.

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