College faculty on strike, affecting 500,000 students

Faculty at 24 Ontario colleges went on strike late Sunday, affecting more than 500,000 students.

The Ontario Public Services Employees Union says the two sides couldn’t resolve their differences by a strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. Monday - writes

“There was really nothing left that we could put forward, nothing more coming from the employer,” Nicole Zwiers, a member of the union bargaining team.

The faculty regrets the effect on students, but many understand the issues at play, said Zwiers.

“It’s always a case that there is always a high degree of upset, which is absolutely understandable,” said Zwiers in an interview Sunday night. “I think that many of our students are indicating to us that they understand the issues that we’re facing.”

There was no indication on when talks might resume, said Zwiers, but the union remained optimistic.

The College Employer Council, which bargains for the colleges, called the strike completely unnecessary.

“We should have had a deal based on our final offer. It is comparable to, or better than, recent public-sector settlements with teachers, college support staff, hospital professionals, and Ontario public servants — most of which were negotiated by OPSEU,” said council spokesperson Sonia Del Missier in a statement.

The union’s demands would have added more than $250 million in annual costs, the council said.

The union presented a proposal Saturday night that called for the number of full-time faculty to match the number of faculty members on contract.

It also called for improvements in job security and for faculty to have a stronger voice in academic decision making.

The strike involves more than 12,000 professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians.

At Fanshawe, all classes, including part-time, apprenticeship and continuing education courses are cancelled, both on campus and online. Unpaid field and clinical placements are also on hold for the duration of the work stoppage.

In a written statement on the weekend, the college said it would do its best to ensure students complete the academic year and would keep all support services open during a strike, though London Transit bus service would not stop on campus.

The academic strike also affects Fanshawe College’s satellite campuses in Simcoe, Woodstock and St. Thomas. Lambton College in Sarnia and St. Clair in Windsor and its satellite site in Chatham are all affected by the work stoppage too.

More than 12,000 professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians across Ontario’s 24 public colleges are on strike, affecting more than a half-million students.

Fanshawe’s faculty has gone on strike three other times, in 1984, 1989 and 2006.

Three things are at the core of the dispute that affects the more than 200 Ontario communities with college campuses or satellite sites:

• College council offered faculty a salary boost of 7.75 per cent during four years, but OPSEU has asked for nine per cent during three years, a price the college council was not prepared to pay.

• The union wants a guarantee that half of faculty will be full timers, but the council says that would be too expensive and that no employer should cede the decision over which types of employees to hire.

• Faculty want more academic freedom to determine the contents of courses, but council says that would hurt the quality and consistency of education whose standards must conform to provincial rules and demands by partners in industry.

What colleges offered would add $70 million in costs during four years, but the union’s counter-­proposal would cost colleges $250 million during three years, Sinclair said. “We’d end up cutting programs . . . The colleges have to balance their budgets,” he said.

Earlier, Zwiers told Postmedia the union’s concerns were not about money but instead reversing the eroding role of full-time faculty.

The final offer by the council included language that might make it easier for colleges to replace full-time professors with contract professors, she said. That’s a no-go zone for the union because contract professors already make up more than 70 per cent of that workforce.

While many are quality instructors, part-timers often are juggling postings with multiple colleges, leaving little time to work with students and colleagues after classes end, Zwiers said.

That trend, if it continues, will hurt students as well as full-time faculty, many of whom are sole survivors in departments they are left to run alone, she said.

Sinclair disputes the numbers used by OPSEU, saying that the key measure is not the number of full-time faculty but rather the percentage of hours taught by faculty. If hours taught is the yardstick, full-timers already teach half the hours and another 20 per cent is taught by part-timers who are part of the union, shares that are even bigger when it comes to teaching the 200,000 traditional students who go to class weekdays, he said. Colleges generally use contract professors most often for those attending night school and weekend courses.

It seems faculty at colleges want to be treated like faculty at universities, but those respective institutions are different, Sinclair said. “Colleges don’t necessarily create knowledge. We’re in the business of applying it,” he said.

The looming strike has left students in the middle and worried about how their education will be disrupted, Fanshawe student union president Morganna Sampson said.

Read also other news of Dublin here.

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