Teachers at Durham College in Oshawa in position to strike after vote

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Published December 22, 2021 at 10:32 am

After five months of meetings and three days of virtual voting college teachers across in Ontario are in position to strike after rejecting the latest proposal from the College Employer Council (CEC), which represents the 24 college employers.

The vote was 59.4 per cent in favour of a strike, though there hasn’t been any indication of a walk-out at Durham College or anywhere else in Ontario, even after the strike vote.

That situation could change, however, and the teachers “working to rule” is now in play.

The teachers are represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) CAAT-Academic, which takes in all 15,000 faculty and academic employees. Their negotiations with the CEC broke down December 11 over the teachers’ contract demands, which centre around workload, job security and equity issues.

“There is no indication at this time that a work stoppage is imminent or that there will be an immediate impact on your studies” the union said in a statement. “Current college operations and Fall-term schedules remain in place, including all scheduled remote and on-campus classes, labs and activities.”

“All 24 public colleges in Ontario … remain hopeful that a new agreement can be reached without interruption to your academic year.”

Despite the optimism, there are still harsh words from both sides on the negotiations. The colleges announced on December 7, prior to the strike vote, that they would introduce wage and benefit enhancements in its latest offer. The faculty, meanwhile countered by saying the offer would trigger a five-day notice for possible labour action.

“We do not understand why, less than two hours after the strike vote results were released, the CAAT-A team issued an ultimatum that if the CEC introduces these terms and conditions, they will provide five days’ notice for all possible labour action,” said Graham Lloyd, CEO of CEC. “We believe that employees have waited long enough to receive wage increases and benefit enhancements. Introducing these improvements does not prohibit further negotiation. We will be introducing the terms and conditions as promised last week”.

J.P. Hornick, the chair of the college faculty bargaining committee, said the CEC approach was “heavy handed, unnecessary and a huge mistake.”

“Unfortunately, the CEC has rejected faculty’s offer to extend the existing Collective Agreement until at least January 3 and have opted to impose terms and conditions,” said Hornick. “To be clear, the CEC has chosen their own form of labour disruption over further negotiations or voluntary binding interest arbitration, which are both still on the table from faculty.”

The CEC’s latest offer includes:

  • Maximum annual wage increase, retroactive to October 1, 2021, as currently allowed under Bill 124. Retroactive payments will be processed as soon as possible.
  • Medical cannabis coverage prescribed by a licensed physician to a maximum of $4,000/year, subject to prior authorization by the insurer.
  • Permit Indigenous teachers to bring an elder or traditional knowledge keeper to the WMG as an advisor.
  • Permit Indigenous employees to bring an elder or traditional knowledge keeper to grievance meetings as an advisor.
  • Coordinator duties will be documented before an employee accepts a coordinatorship. Such acceptance will remain voluntary.
  • Update the counsellor class definition.
  • Partial Load employees will accrue service for statutory Holidays on which they were scheduled to teach.
  • Partial Load registration date change from October 30th to April 30th.
  • Extend Partial Load registration preference to courses which a partial load employee taught while part-time or sessional.
  • Partial Load priority will continue for a course even if the course code changes, unless there has been a major revision of the course or curriculum.

Dr. Laurie Rancourt, Chair of the CEC Management Bargaining team, said the colleges have not left the table, but added that bringing in a third-party to impose binding arbitration – as the teacher’s union is proposing – is not the answer.

“The CEC has been clear about the items we cannot agree to as well as the areas that still show room for common ground. With this ultimatum, the CAAT-A team has told us once again that they are unwilling to move further on their demands,” she said. “We share an interest with the CAAT-A team on working together on issues of EDI, Indigeneity, and workload. This work is far too important and nuanced to have an outside third party impose terms at binding arbitration.”

OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says it’s unfortunate that the situation has reached this point.

“We can still reach a settlement at the bargaining table,” said Thomas. “Bypassing negotiations and creating hard feelings will not help students and will sour the labour climate at the colleges – everyone loses.”

With files from Don Redmond

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