A Commentary by Doug Draper followed by Statements from Niagara College and Union representing College Faculty
Posted October 16, 2017 on Niagara At Large
When Ontario’s colleges or universities are shut down due to a strike, it is almost always the students, stuck in the middle, who pay the highest cost, regardless of what side, faculty or administration, is right or wrong.
As of this Monday, October 16th and for who knows how long, more than 10,000 students at Niagara College in Niagara, Ontario, along with about half a million college students across the province, are now out of class thanks to a strike called by the union representing faculty following a breakdown in negotiations with Ontario’s college administrators.
From some of the reports I have read in newspapers and heard on radio this October 16th, at least some students support their teachers on this strike call and some – possibly the same students expressing that support – are also insisting that at least some of their tuition be paid back for any lost academic time the strike causes.
It is a demand that seems more than reasonable given how much a post-secondary education costs students these days.
As for what is so far known about one of the main concerns of the faculty members and the Ontario Public Services Union representing them, there has been an ongoing practices on the part of college administrators to replace full-time faculty with faculty working on contract – to a point where about 70 per cent of all faculty across the province are contract employees with no guarantee they will ever secure a stable, full-time job at an Ontario college.
This practice of replacing full-time employees with precarious, contract positions has been growing in the public and private sector in Ontario and many other jurisdictions across the continent for many years now, and it is a disturbing one for working people and, quite possibly, for the economy as a whole in the short and long run.
After all, how can people plan for their future – plan for having a family, buying a house, and son on – if they are constantly living in doubt that they will have a job next year, or next month, for that matter.
There were reports on CBC radio earlier today that some in college administration claim it would collectively cost colleges across the province an additional $250 million a year to meet the demands of striking faculty for more job security and pay in line with what full-time faculty generally get.
One wonders if that is such a large amount given the hundreds of thousand of dollars in salary and benefits top college administrators get and the hundreds of millions of dollars spent each year in Ontario on brick and mortar buildings that, in some case, might not be necessary if more online programs were offered.
There may always be a need for laboratories, mechanic shops and other facilities but one also watches college and university presidents relishing all of the construction and ribbon cuttings as if they were pharaohs building pyramids to themselves as in; ‘Look at home much this campus has grown during my years at the helm.’
Then again, there have been strikes in the past, one of them at colleges across Ontario about nine years ago when Canada, the United States and other countries where suffering through that ‘great recession’ and full-time faculty were wanting a salary increase while so many others were watching their jobs disappear or downsized.
That strike got underway just as students were preparing to finish their academic year and the optics did not look good for the faculty during the course of that one.
As for this strike, the issue of part-time, contract work desperately needs to be addressed and let’s hope it is soon for the sake of Ontario’s colleges, those who teach at them and, most of all, the students.
Now here are statements, first from Niagara College, then from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union on behalf of college faculty across the province.
NIAGARA COLLEGE MEDIA RELEASE
October 16, 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
College faculty strike begins; all academic and apprenticeship programs suspended
As of Monday, October 16, College faculty in Ontario represented by OPSEU are on strike. This strike includes faculty at Niagara College.
As a result of the strike, all academic and apprenticeship programs at Niagara College are suspended and classes are cancelled. Niagara College campuses remain open, and all non-academic services and activities continue to run as scheduled.
Additional information is available online at www.niagaracollege.ca/strikeinfo. Students, visitors and staff and encouraged to visit the website regularly for updates.
The following statement was released by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) on behalf of college facility –
Ontario college strike begins Monday morning as employer rejects faculty offer
Sunday, October 15, 20, 9 p.m.
Toronto – More than 12,000 Ontario public college faculty will be on the picket line rather than in their classrooms on Monday morning after talks between the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and the College Employer Council failed to produce a tentative collective agreement.
“On October 14, we presented Council with a streamlined offer that represented what faculty consider to be the bare minimum we need to ensure quality education for students and treat contract faculty fairly,” said JP Hornick, chair of the union bargaining team. “We carefully crafted a proposal that responded to Council’s concerns about costs in a fair and reasonable way.
“Unfortunately, Council refused to agree on even the no-cost items, such as longer contracts for contract faculty and academic freedom,” she said. “This leaves us with no choice but to withdraw our services until such time as our employer is ready to negotiate seriously.”
Hornick said Council is committed to a “Walmart model of education” based on reducing the role of full-time faculty and exploiting underpaid contract workers who have no job security beyond one semester.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas called the current impasse “regrettable” but said college faculty have the full backing of the union’s 130,000 members and their $72 million strike fund.
“Our union has a track record of getting deals done without work stoppages,” he said. “Unfortunately, that has not happened in this case. Nonetheless, I encourage the colleges to get back to the table so we can wrap this up swiftly, for the good of students and faculty alike.”
OPSEU represents professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians working at 24 public colleges across Ontario. To view the union’s most recent offer, please visit www.collegefaculty.org.
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