Uncer­tainty: Col­lege fac­ulty vote for strike man­date

Waterloo Region Record - - FRONT PAGE - Jeff Hicks, Record staff

KITCH­ENER — A strike by fac­ulty at On­tario’s 24 pub­lic col­leges could ar­rive as early as Oc­to­ber.

“There have been strikes in the past,” Con­estoga Col­lege pres­i­dent John Tib­bits said on Fri­day, the morn­ing af­ter union­ized col­lege fac­ulty voted to give the On­tario Pub­lic Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees Union a strike man­date to back con­tract talks.

“No stu­dent has ever lost their year. But let’s face it, this is cre­at­ing a lot of uncer­tainty for the stu­dents.”

The pos­si­bil­ity of a strike likely makes the 12,500 full-time stu­dents at Con­estoga cam­puses in Kitch­ener, Water­loo, Cam­bridge, Guelph, Inger­soll, Strat­ford and Brant­ford ner­vous.

The strike man­date was given with the sup­port of 68 per cent of fac­ulty mem­bers who voted on Thurs­day.

“It’s not a pow­er­ful man­date,” Tib­bits said.

But Lana-Lee Har­dacre dis­agrees. The pres­i­dent of OPSEU Lo­cal 237 rep­re­sents 782 union­ized fac­ulty mem­bers at Con­estoga Col­lege.

“The high­est rate we have ever got was 72 per cent provin­cially,” Har­dacre said, putting the 68 per cent vote in per­spec­tive for the union. “So this is very high.” Twelve strike man­dates have been granted over the past five decades of com­mu­nity col­leges, Har­dacre said. Three led to strikes. The last strike was in 2006.

The cur­rent col­lec­tive agree­ment for 12,000 fac­ulty provincewide runs out on Sept. 30.

Now, with a strike man­date that got 60 per cent sup­port at Con­estoga, the first strike in more than a decade is a real pos­si­bil­ity as con­tract talks re­sume Mon­day.

“For fac­ulty who have to choose be­tween a strike man­date and be­ing with their stu­dents, it’s a very dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion,” Har­dacre said. “It shows they un­der­stand the is­sues we’re fac­ing are sig­nif­i­cant.”

The is­sues, the union says, in­clude the grow­ing pro­por­tion of part-time fac­ulty across On­tario col­leges.

Har­dacre says con­tract staff are up to 81 per cent, com­pared to 70 per cent three years ago. Tib­bits coun­ters that Con­estoga has hired 107 full-timers in the past five years, in­clud­ing about 25 this year.

“We con­tinue to hire full time,” Tib­bits said. “But we can’t just have full time.”

At Con­estoga, there are 469 full-timers among the 782 OPSEU-union­ized fac­ulty. Part-timers, teach­ing six hours or less, and ses­sion­als, who teach 13 hours or more with­out be­ing full-time, are to vote on es­tab­lish­ing their own union within OPSEU in Oc­to­ber.

“We have a lot of pre­car­i­ous work at the com­mu­nity col­leges,” Har­dacre said.

Tib­bits, who calls the Col­lege Em­ployer Coun­cil’s of­fer of a 7.5 per cent wage in­crease over four years a “good of­fer,” wishes union mem­bers had re­jected a strike man­date.

“We could have set­tled per­haps or worked on this with­out a strike man­date,” Tib­bits said. “I think this is un­nec­es­sary. We’re not pro­duc­ing cars here. This is putting a lot of stress on stu­dents un­nec­es­sar­ily.”

Har­dacre ex­pects the col­leges to put up a de­ter­mined fight in con­tract talks.

“I be­lieve the coun­cil will dig in their heels and con­tinue to use in­tim­i­da­tion to frighten mem­bers by telling them that what we’re ask­ing for costs mil­lions of dol­lars,” she said.

So far, a pos­si­ble strike date has not been an­nounced.

“No­body is talk­ing about dates or any­thing,” Har­dacre said.

RECORD STAFF FILE PHOTO

“This is cre­at­ing a lot of uncer­tainty for the stu­dents,” Con­estoga Col­lege pres­i­dent John Tib­bits says of the pos­si­bil­ity of a strike.

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