Col­lege se­mes­ter ‘un­der threat’ — union

The Sudbury Star - - FRONT PAGE - Sud.ed­i­to­rial@sun­media.ca

TORONTO — On­tario’s col­leges and the union rep­re­sent­ing strik­ing fac­ulty mem­bers are ac­cus­ing each other of spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion ahead of a con­tract vote in the labour dis­pute that has left half a mil­lion stu­dents out of class for a month.

Some 12,000 On­tario col­lege pro­fes­sors, in­struc­tors, counsellors, and li­brar­i­ans haven’t been at work since Oct. 15. In Sud­bury, the strike has af­fected more than 5,000 stu­dents at Col­lege Bo­real and Cam­brian Col­lege.

The On­tario Pub­lic Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees Union, which rep­re­sents the strik­ing fac­ulty, said the dis­pute was the long­est strike in the col­leges’ his­tory.

“It’s the only time in the his­tory of the col­leges the se­mes­ter has been un­der threat,” Kevin MacKay, a mem­ber of the OPSEU fac­ulty bar­gain­ing team said Mon­day. “And I’m telling you, if the strike doesn’t end this week, the se­mes­ter is un­der threat — se­ri­ous threat.”

The coun­cil rep­re­sent­ing the prov­ince’s 24 col­leges said ac­cep­tance of the lat­est con­tract of­fer would mean stu­dents could be back in the class­room as early as next Tues­day.

Talks be­tween the Col­lege Em­ployer Coun­cil and the union broke down last week, with the coun­cil ask­ing the On­tario Labour Re­la­tions Board to schedule a vote on its of­fer.

With the vote set to be­gin Tues­day and end Thurs­day, the coun­cil was reach­ing out di­rectly to fac­ulty to ad­dress what is called the union’s “con­tin­ued mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion” of the con­tract of­fer. The coun­cil launched a new web­site — www.col­legevote.ca — and posted an au­dio we­b­cast on Mon­day in which it dis­cussed the con­tents of the of­fer.

The col­leges said the 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.

So­nia Del Missier, the chair of the col­leges’ bar­gain­ing team, said all ma­jor is­sues in the of­fer have been agreed on by both sides ex­cept for lan­guage sur­round­ing aca­demic free­dom.

But the union said the of­fer con­tains “se­ri­ous con­ces­sions” that were not agreed to, and which would erode fac­ulty rights and con­trib­ute to an un­sus­tain­able staffing model.

Among them are con­ces­sions around the process for hir­ing full-time fac­ulty, pro­vi­sions that would al­low fac­ulty to ex­ceed over­time lim­its and make it harder to take pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment days, MacKay said.

“There’s no way we agreed to those things,” he said.

The union has said its main point of con­tention has been the level of in­put col­lege in­struc­tors have into the way cour­ses are taught and eval­u­ated, and MacKay said the col­leges’ at­tempt to ad­dress the is­sue is worse than if they had done noth­ing.

“It’s not about aca­demic free­dom at all, it’s ac­tu­ally about all the ways in which you can get in trou­ble if you say the wrong thing,” he said.

Del Messier, mean­while, said the of­fer “en­shrines aca­demic free­dom,” which she called the only key is­sue still out­stand­ing.

“From the union’s per­spec­tive, they talk about aca­demic con­trol and they’ve re­ally de­ter­mined that it’s got to be either (fac­ulty) or (man­age­ment). And from our per­spec­tive, it’s not an either/or,” she said.

“When we look at how the col­leges set up pro­grams and how they con­tinue to en­sure pro­grams are rel­e­vant, you need the in­put of your key stake­hold­ers,” in­clud­ing em­ploy­ers, in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives and grad­u­ates, she said.

The On­tario gov­ern­ment has or­dered the col­leges to cre­ate a fund to help stu­dents who may be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing fi­nan­cial hard­ship be­cause of the strike.

Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Deb Matthews has said the gov­ern­ment wants to see stu­dents re­turn to the class­room as quickly as pos­si­ble.

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