By: Ed Hitchens, Sulaiman Akbari and Brett McGarry
Colleges across Ontario are littered with picket lines as college teachers walked off the job at midnight on Sunday.
Ontario Public Service Employee Union (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.
However, teachers say that money is not the issue. Rather, it’s the academic freedom to give faculty a bigger say in terms of decision making with regards to curriculum and the ratio of 50/50 in the number of full-time to contract faculty members.
J.P. Hornick of OPSEU said that the College Employer Council is committed to a “Walmart of education” and are very firm in the demand of cutting full-time staff with the intention of using and exploiting underpaid contract workers with job security of no more than a semester.
The College Employer Council said that while there is a stoppage now, students shouldn’t panic.
“The demands the union have on the table may cost the colleges up to $250 million. That’s unaffordable for the system,” Peter McKeracher, director of the College Employer Council said. “Unfortunately, we have a strike stoppage and students aren’t in class. However, we’ve had work stoppages before. No student has ever lost their academic year due to a work stoppage.”
Students are especially puzzled regarding what may happen to their school year.
Greg Kung, a second-year Paramedic student at Humber College, started a petition with more than 40,000 signatures regarding a possible tuition refund. He feels that the time is now for students to show their voice.
“We’re very respectful of the negotiation process,” he said. “However, students have the biggest stake in the game in terms of a work stoppage. Especially the students who signed my petition, we want them to be heard. Talk to your MP, talk to their fellow peers.”
College Student Alliance communications manager Emmaline Scharbach suggests that a long-term strike should not be an option.
“Short-term, students are concerned about lost class time. It’s frustrating for students. They are the at-risk party in the dispute. They feel hopeless,” Scharbach said. “We really encourage both parties to go back to the negotiation table and flesh out a deal immediately.”