Niagara College teachers joining colleagues to vote on strike mandate
Niagara College teachers will join faculty from across the province Thursday, choosing between the classroom and potentially joining picket lines.
College faculty represented by OPSEU will cast their ballots from 8:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. at both the Welland and Niagaraon-the-Lake campuses, while their colleagues at all 24 colleges across the province cast ballots to decide whether or not to give their union a strike mandate.
OPSEU’s bargaining unit chairperson JP Hornick is asking the more than 12,000 teachers it represents to support the strike mandate to give them more power when negotiating with the province.
“We’re looking for a strong strike mandate from our members so management will actually start negotiating at the table on faculty issues,” she said.
Hornick, however, said she remains hopeful that the strike mandate vote will not end on the picket lines.
“We are negotiating towards a settlement, not a strike,” she said.
“The strike mandate is one of the tools in the tool kit that allows the members to show that they stand behind the proposal, the demands that they put forward.”
Niagara College’s Student Administrative Council president Ryan Huckla is pretty certain the union will get the yes vote it’s looking for, “however, it’s all a negotiation tool.”
“At the end of the day, as Niagara College Students Administrative Council we’re neutral in the situation. Our main concern is that the students are taken care of,” he said.
Despite an offer from college negotiators of a 7.5 per cent wage increase over four years increasing maximum wages for full-time instructors to $115,094 by 2020, Hornick said the underlying issue is the future of the college system, not just wages and benefits.
“Management believes that faculty can be bought off with a bit of money and a pat on the head, but if you don’t address faculty issues. If you don’t address faculty concerns, then we have to show you that our members care about these things and are willing to stand up for them.”
For instance, Hornick said 81 per cent of the teachers the union represents are working under contract, “and they’re reapplying for their jobs every 15 weeks.”
“It’s not a stable system. We want there to be fairness for them, more job security. We also want to see a share in the academic decision-making. The discussions that set the academic directions for classrooms in the college generally, we believe that faculty should have a voice in that process,” she said. “That’s typically done at all other colleges and universities in Canada through academic senates – a combination of administrators, faculty and students all working together.”
Hornick said college management has rejected both of these as items for discussion during negotiations.
She said OPSEU hopes to reach an agreement with the colleges by Sept. 30, but couldn’t predict if a strike would happen after that date.
“Beyond that, I wouldn’t be able to predict what’s going to happen until we get to meet again and see where everybody is.”
Asked about the OSEU negotiations, Niagara College media relations advisor Susan McConnell said the College Employer Council, which includes the college’s bargaining team, will be releasing information on the results of the vote, which will be provided to the media.