College faculty in Oshawa, St. Catharines and Oakville set to strike this Friday

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Published March 14, 2022 at 12:29 pm

Three months after beginning a work-to-rule campaign, faculty at Durham College, Niagara College, Sheridan College and 21 other colleges in Ontario will hit the picket lines Friday, March 18.

The goal is to try and compel the College Employer Council (CEC) and the College Presidents to do either of the two things the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents more than 15,000 full-time faculty at Ontario’s colleges, say they have refused to do since bargaining began:

  • Complete negotiations on faculty’s priority issues, or,
  • Refer outstanding issues to binding interest arbitration.

If neither of these things happen OPSEU and the college faculty will stop all work and start picketing on Friday.

“The Bargaining Team did not arrive at this decision lightly,” read a statement from the union. “We have remained committed to completing negotiations with the least amount of disruption, including our offer to send all outstanding issues to arbitration. However, since July, we have faced an employer that has simply refused to negotiate. Despite our two provincial votes that rejected their offer and a work-to-rule campaign, the CEC and Presidents continue to say that they will not negotiate. And worse, the chances are very good that they will escalate negative actions against faculty.”

The strike action comes mere weeks after a month-long faculty strike at Ontario Tech University, Durham College’s campus partner in Oshawa.

According to OPSEU Local 354, which represents Durham College full-time faculty, scheduling a strike deadline now ensures management cannot lock out the faculty after the end-of-semester grades are submitted, which would have “disastrous consequences” for all members.

“Once the grades are submitted, we lose bargaining leverage. Our deadline also prevents the Presidents from disciplining faculty for work-to-rule and prevents the Colleges from imposing worse terms & conditions at a time when strike action would be considerably less effective.”

A strike deadline now also puts pressure on the Conservative government because it is still in session and both the ruling party and the opposition “will be acutely aware” of a potential strike leading up to June’s election.

“This is our only window for resolution. Once the government dissolves, there will be almost no opportunity to place pressure on the CEC to resolve the dispute.”

“Setting a strike deadline does not mean there will be a strike,” the statement continued. “The College Presidents still have a clear choice: negotiate, arbitrate, or put the students through a work stoppage.”

Faculty at Ontario’s colleges have been trying to negotiate a new contract since last July and began work-to-rule December 18 after its members voted 59.4 per cent in favour of a strike that day, a week after negotiations broke down over the teachers’ contract demands, which centre around workload, job security and equity issues.

Some of those issues include additional time to grade student essays and projects; additional time to prepare classes with an online component; and preventing the jobs of professors, counsellors, and librarians from being contracted out to private corporations.

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

Dr. Laurie Rancourt, Chair of the CEC Management Bargaining team, countered by saying 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 (union) has told us once again that they are unwilling to move further on their demands,” she said. “This work is far too important and nuanced to have an outside third party impose terms at binding arbitration.”

A subsequent offer from the CEC was rejected by faculty by a 62 per cent margin January 17.

Since then, negotiations have not gone well, with the union claiming the CEC is refusing return to the bargaining table, nor agree to refer outstanding issues to interest arbitration, “despite faculty having clearly rejected their final offer.”

The last college faculty strike in Ontario took place in 2017 and lasted five weeks – the longest college labour disruption in Ontario’s history.

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