By: Tyson Lautenschlager
Approaching the end of the fourth week of the Ontario-wide college faculty strike, an agreement between the colleges and Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) still isn’t imminent.
The strike began on October 16 when teachers walked off the job at midnight the Sunday before. On Monday morning, picket lines were formed at Humber College and the other 23 colleges across the province.
OPSEU, the union representing college teachers, counsellors and librarians, rejected the final offer of the College Employer Council, a deal that included a 7.75 per cent wage increase over four years.
Later in the week, several rallies were planned by OPSEU and students, including a small protest in downtown Toronto. The rally which began at Bay and Bloor Street made its way down to the Ministry of Advanced Skills and Education, and eventually down to Queen’s Park where students demanded the provincial government step in to end the strike.
James Fauvelle, a Centennial College student, organized the rally that was in solidarity with striking faculty.
“I’m tired of being exploited and something needs to be done. That being said we’re out here to address the faculty’s point of view. People need to know that they’re humans as well,” he said.
The strike, which began as a short disruption to the academic year, became a nuisance for students.
“We’re building core skills in our first year at Humber and paying a lot of money to be here,” Bradley Straite, an Industrial Design student at Humber said. “[I’m] basically left to study on my own. … From a student’s perspective, our voice hasn’t been heard as much. For them, I think it’s a challenge they need to fight for and something they deserve.”
While the strike was now beginning to worry students, a sense of student support was felt by OPSEU.
“That’s [student support] probably what’s meant the most, and that’s not to take away from any of the support we’re getting. It’s wonderful, but the reason why we’re out here is for quality of education,” Shawn Pentecost, a bargaining team member and professor at Algonquin College, said. “It is for the students. When the students see that, it’s wonderful.”
Students became active in calling for Premier Kathleen Wynne to step in to end the strike, but not everyone felt that way. The College Employer Council said it was important to let the collective bargaining process go the course.
“We think no matter what settlement there is at the end of the day it has to be one that is fair to faculty and appropriate,” said David Scott, a spokesperson for the Council. “Our view is that we should be, as a system, working through the collective bargaining settlement.”
Student governments have their say
In hopes of getting answers for students, student government leaders from eight colleges across Ontario arranged a meeting with Deb Matthews, the education minister. IGNITE President Maja Jocson was one person present for the meeting.
“I hope that this will allow the government to understand what we’re feeling,” said Jocson. “They will be face-to-face with actual students who know.”
“Once they know and get involved, they will have students’ best interests in their minds,” she said. “Will it solve everything? No. But I hope it continues their communication. And it encourages them to go back and talk.”
A large rally at the ministry
Faculty frustrations came to a head when the first, big rally took place at the Ministry of Education. Thousands of striking professors from across the province came out, and even shut down Bay Street in front of the ministry for a while.
900 Bay St
-Protest held in front of bldg
-Crowd gathered outside
-Bay St closed completely#GO1930118
— Toronto Police OPS (@TPSOperations) October 25, 2017
“This is about making our colleges better places to work, but the best places you can learn in Ontario,” JP Hornick, CAAT-A bargaining leader said.
A flash of hope for students as during the third week of the strike, the employers asked a provincial government appointed mediator to bring both parties back to the table.
“This strike has gone on for too long,” Sonia Del Missier, chair of the employer’s bargaining team said. “We need to end the strike and get our students and faculty back in the classroom. We can reach a settlement quickly and have classes start again early next week. We will focus our efforts at the table and work very hard to reach a deal that ends the strike.”
Just one day after both parties returned to the table, OPSEU held a large rally at Queen’s Park.
“I think the strongest message that really came through to me today was that this fight is about quality of education,” said Maureen Carnegie, an accessibility consultant at Humber. “Having such a ridiculous proportion of part-time faculty teaching students is really eroding the quality of students’ education right now.”
The hope students felt during the third week was quickly retracted when OPSEU rejected a settlement brought forward by the colleges on Monday, forcing a faculty vote next week between Nov. 14 and 16. The colleges asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board to suspend the strike before the vote took place, however, that didn’t happen.
“OPSEU’s insistence on continuing the strike is a terrible outcome for students and faculty. we addressed all faculty priorities and the offer that is available right now on the table should have ended the strike,” Del Missier said. “An employer vote is never the preferred path because a settlement should be reached at the bargaining table but we have exhausted all efforts at the bargaining table and now faculty will decide.”
Shortly after the strike vote was announced, the Humber Faculty Union organized a large picket at North campus where hundreds of teachers showed up to protest outside the campus.
When asked about the impending vote, Allan Sperling, a professor in the business school, said he expects a ‘no’ vote majority.
“I think most people, certainly the ones I’ve spoken to, will be voting no,” he said.
Bob Bolf, president of the Humber Faculty Union, was firm in how he thinks faculty should vote.
“It’s a bad offer,” Bolf said. “The colleges could have forced a vote four weeks ago, but they waited to put pressure on students and faculty. We’re really upset about that. As students, you’ve lost four weeks needlessly. Definitely going to reject the offer.”
Results of the faculty vote are expected to be released at the end of next week.
With files from Brett McGarry, Matt Owczarz, Julie Arounlasy, Dan Caudle, Sulaiman Akbari, Gulled Omar and Ed Hitchens.
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