Published on Oct 17, 2017

Why Ontario college faculty members are on strike (CBC News)

Union for 12,000 workers fighting for job security, academic freedom as 500,000 are without classes

By: Makda Ghebreslassie, CBC | Posted: Oct 16, 2017 | Last Updated: Oct 16, 2017 

SOURCE: CBC News

 

College Faculty on Strike

Faculty walk the picket line at George Brown College in Toronto on Monday, the first day of a strike by colleges in Ontario. (Linda Ward/CBC)

 

Thousands of faculty members with Ontario colleges are on picket lines Monday and hundreds of thousands of students are without classes after bargaining teams for the union and the colleges failed to reach an agreement over the weekend. 

"Strikes are never a fortunate thing," Carolyn Dobbyn said on the picket line at George Brown College in Toronto about the walkout affecting 500,000 students.

Dobbyn is a full-time faculty member, but says that's not the case for most of her co-workers.

carolyn dobbyn on strike at george brown college

Carolyn Dobbyn, who is on strike at George Brown College, said, 'We just need the council to come back to the table and bargain with us in good faith.' (CBC)


"We have a fantastic group of contract staff, but they put in long hours that they're not paid for and they're doing the same work we're doing."

The main demands of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) focus on job security and academic freedom for more than 12,000 faculty, including professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians.

It also wants more full-time jobs at the 24 public colleges.   

"When you have a system where almost somewhere around three out of four faculty are working on contract every four months, they have to concentrate on whether or not they have a job rather than concentrating on the classroom alone and working with students," said JP Hornick, chair of the union's bargaining team.

Don Sinclair, CEO of the College Employer Council, representing the schools, said Monday that he is "extremely disappointed," and that the union's bargaining team did not present its offer to its members, which included wage increases. 

"We've got an offer on the table that's four years and 7.75 per cent, and we really think that OPSEU should allow the faculty to vote on that offer," he told CBC Radio's Here & Now​.

He said meeting the union's demands would be too costly. "We're looking at an additional cost to this sector at about $250 million."

In a statement on Sunday, the employer council said that would lead to the loss of thousands of contract jobs. 

 

George Brown faculty strike 

The union for striking college faculty is fighting for job security and academic freedom. Some 500,000 students are without classes. (Linda Ward/CBC)

 

Hornick said she doesn't buy that argument.

"The colleges have had this year alone a $188-million surplus, and the college presidents had not eight months ago gone to the government looking for increases of over 20 per cent for themselves," she said.

In January, the province rejected salary raises as high as 50 per cent for college senior executives.

The union and the colleges are also fighting over the role of faculty when it comes to academic decisions.

"We want a balance between faculty, administrators and students making the academic decisions in the college," said Hornick. "So that's everyone participating rather than just the administration."

But according to the employer council statement, the union is calling for academic control by individual faculty members.

Students split on strike

"This strike is completely unnecessary and unfair to hundreds of thousands of students, " said Sonia Del Missier in Sunday's employer council statement. 

The strike has sparked an online students petition demanding that tuition be refunded for every day that the strike is on.

Alexandro Yang, a student at Humber College's north campus signed the petition. 

"It kind of sucks because we spend three grand a year just to go to class and try to get a proper education and then in the middle of this teachers go on strike," he said.

But some students joined faculty on the picket line.

Humber College student Celia Green said she supports their demand for more full-time positions. 

"A lot of time it's hard to schedule meetings with the part-time and contract faculty because they're running across the city to teach another class and they don't have offices at the school, and we can feel the effect of that," she said.

With files from Linda Ward