Colleges strike: Fanshawe faculty want to keep up pressure as strike drags on

Nine days into the provincewide stalemate that’s forced more than 12,000 instructors to the picket line, Fanshawe College’s striking faculty are taking their fight uptown.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local110 — which represents about 800 striking instructors at Fanshawe — is planning a Victoria Park rally Thursday as the strike drags into the double digits and the issues at the core of the job action remain unresolved - informed

“We just have to do what we have to do,” said Darryl Bedford, an information technology instructor at Fanshawe and OPSEU bargaining team member. “There’s still a big need to keep the pressure on.”

The union and its supporters will meet in the park at 11:30 a.m. and walk to London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews office, who’s also the minister of advanced education and skills development.

Thursday’s London march comes a day after a planned rally outside Matthews’ Queen’s Park post, an event OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas is expected to attend.

Bedford said the union wants to get back to the bargaining table and is willing to negotiate a deal that works for everyone.

“We’re open to discussing our position,” he said, “but if you’re not even at the table, how can we even have that discussion?”

A representative from the College Employer Council said Monday the provincial mediator assigned to the case will call both parties back to negotiations when there’s a reasonable chance a deal can be brokered. That just hasn’t happened yet, he said.

Job security is a top concern for OPSEU, which is asking colleges to employ the same number of full-time instructors as the more precarious — and often lower-paid — contract positions.

Not a surprising demand in this day and age, said one observer.

“There’s two opposite forces here. One is on the part of labour to secure more job security and stability,” said Nelson Wiseman, political scientist at the University of Toronto. “The other is the way our economy is evolving, where employers are moving toward the gig economy.”

Wiseman said if both sides can’t reconcile these large macro trends and come to some kind of agreement within seven to eight weeks, it’s likely the province will legislate faculty back to work.

“The government will step in if there’s enough pressure,” he said.

It’s happened before, most recently for OPSEU’s 1984 college faculty strike, one chapter in a long ­history of post-secondary job action, from support services strikes to faculty walkouts.

In October 1984, college faculty represented by OPSEU walked off the job and were legislated back to work after 18 school days.

College faculty hit the picket lines again five years later, a strike that pushed students out of class for 20 days in 1989.

In March 2006, 8,900 college instructors and librarians spent 18days on the picket line before agreeing to binding arbitration.

Though there’s no telling how long OPSEU’s fourth college faculty strike will last, labour relations researcher Johanna Weststar said the best outcome will come at the bargaining table.

“An arbitration award is not where we’re going to see a fix to this issue ... It ends the issue in that moment, but it doesn’t make that problem go away,” said Weststar, a professor in the department of management and organizational studies at Western University.

“Arbitrators don’t usually come in and impose something super ­creative, they usually impose kind of the status quo because they’re trying to be balanced.”

College faculty across Ontario hit the picket line Oct.16, cancelling classes for more than a half million students, including tens of thousands in Southwestern Ontario at Fanshawe’s satellite campuses in Woodstock, St. Thomas and Simcoe, Lambton College in Sarnia, St. Clair College in Windsor and its Chatham campus.

Read also other London news here.

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