Possible strike by Humber College faculty worries students
By: Wrence Trinidad
Humber College students are beginning to worry as a province-wide strike may be on the horizon.
The unsettling relationship between Ontario college teachers and the College Council continue to worsen, as a “no-board” report between the two parties has been issued.
— OPSEU (@OPSEU) September 22, 2017
The report will put the college faculty in a legal strike position by the middle of October.
“It’s my first year at Humber,” said student Christopher Okaro. “I’m honestly shook. A strike would probably be the worst thing to happen, especially within the first couple months of class.”
Following the Sept. 14 ballot, where 68% of the eligible 12,000 Ontario Public Service Employees Union members voted in favour of a strike mandate, Humber’s Director of Communications Andrew Leopold said the school has a contingency plan.
“In the event of a strike, Humber, like all of the other colleges, would be given a five days notice from the union that they intend to strike. (We are) already contingency planning,” Leopold said, reassuringly.
“We will have our contingency plans in place, so that when the five day period happens we will be able to implement those plans. Lots of decisions are being made, so I don’t know the specifics, but just know that the plans are in progress.”
OPSEU, the group representing Ontario college instructors, professors, and librarians, have made it clear that the majority of their members are willing to strike if their faculty union demands are not met.
“It’s not about the money,” said Bob Bolf, president of the Humber Faculty Union.
“The issue here, amongst other ones, is that the college relies more on contract faculty.”
In most Ontario Colleges, contract faculty, otherwise known as part-time teachers, get paid considerably less than their full-time counterparts, while being just as instrumental to a student’s academic success.
“Contract faculty average (an income of) $35,000, which is below the poverty line in Toronto. Most are forced to work two different jobs, usually at two different colleges,” Bolf continued.
Bolf claims that part-time teachers have limited availability to further assist their students outside of class hours. In addition, he believes contract workers should receive more benefits for the work they do on a weekly basis.
Bouncing around from workplace to workplace, even if a part-time teacher does commit to aiding their students during off hours, they would not get compensated. An ongoing problem OPSEU is looking to resolve, even at the cost of a nation-wide strike.
Bolf isn’t the only faculty member at Humber who’s noticed the disdained difference between full-time and part-time workers.
“I get paid poorly, so when it comes to the strike, I’m all for equality. It’s unfortunate for the students, but if the strike does go through, the quality of education will rise immensely.”
Fortunately for students, a “no-board” report does not necessarily lead to a full on strike. If anything, it urges both parties, OPSEU and Ontario Colleges, to come closer to an agreement.
“I don’t enjoy the feeling of uncertainty when it comes to my job. In four months or so, I might be jobless. I’m fighting for me, I’m fighting for the students,” he said.
While some Humber teachers are ready to wield their picket signs and chant for change, others would rather avoid it altogether.
“I’m absolutely pro settlement, not pro strike,” said Anita John, Program Coordinator for Humber’s Law Clerk program
“I want to avoid a strike, and I hope all the bargaining now until then will be resolved, so we could avoid a strike.”
Although her wishes to squash the strike are firm, John does believe that part-time teachers should be entitled to more benefits.
“Equal work for equal pay. If part time employees are putting in the work, they should be compensated, or at least have access to benefits,” she said.
A change of rules for part-time Ontario teachers isn’t the only thing on OPSEU’s demand list. “Faculty, being subject matter experts, are the ones in the best position to decide what to teach and what the courses and curriculum should be,” Bolf explained.
“Right now, it’s the associate deans and deans, the managers, who tell the faculty what to teach. (Whereas,) the faculty, who do have the experience, don’t have a say in that, and for us that’s wrong.”
Referencing the Academic Employees Collective Agreement, which is the comprehensive rulebook agreed upon by OPSEU and the College Employer Council, Bolf argues that Academic freedom, the right to determine what the faculty teach, is being disregarded by the colleges.
With the collective agreement updating every three years, there are bound to be some disagreements had by both parties, with this year being no exception.
Negotiations will continue as the current collective agreement will come to an end on Sept. 30.
REMINDER: #OPSEU & the College Employer Council are back at the bargaining table negotiating faculty contracts which expire September 30.
— CSA (@CSA_ON) September 19, 2017