https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2022/03/15/ontarios-colleges-could-strike-on-friday-heres-what-that-means.html

The union representing more than 16,000 faculty members from Ontario public colleges is threatening to walk off the job Friday if its bargaining demands are not met.

In Brampton on Tuesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford addressed the looming strike deadline, adding he doesn’t like when anyone goes on strike, especially “when we went through such tough times.” He called on Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop, who added that the province is monitoring the process closely.

“I’ve heard from students and from parents who are very upset. Students cannot afford a strike at this time. They’re finally back in the classroom. That’s where they need to be,” Dunlop said.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) issued an open letter to college presidents on Monday, saying staff are prepared to strike if the College Employer Council (CEC) does not agree to “voluntary binding interest arbitration” to settle outstanding contract issues.

In response, the CEC notes that its made numerous attempts to reach an agreement, but the union rejected request without discussion, they said in a statement.

Here’s what we know so far.

When is the strike deadline?

Some 16,000 faculty at Ontario’s 24 public colleges could go on strike at 12:01 a.m. on Friday after staff rejected the latest offer from the CEC last month.

The union has been in contract negotiations with the CEC since July around better educational tools and job security. Ontario public college staff have been working without a collective agreement since Sept. 30. Negotiations between the two groups broke down in November.

The faculty have been working to rule since December, instead of picketing, said the union.

JP Hornick, chair of the bargaining team, said, “Our members are fighting for the best education for students,” said Hornick. “We haven’t made any unreasonable demands, and everything we have asked for is easily achievable.”

Who would the strike impact?

The looming strike deadline includes professors, librarians, instructors and counsellors employed by Ontario’s 24 public colleges. It could impact nearly a quarter of a million students. OPSEU represents more than 16,000 public college staff members.

It would impact colleges in the GTA including Centennial College, Durham College, George Brown College, Humber college, and Seneca college.

The College Student Alliance (CSA) is calling on the province to step in now ahead of a possible strike.

“Students should be the priority during this process. CSA encourages college faculty and the colleges themselves to come back to the table and negotiate to avoid a strike,” said Eli Ridder, president of the CSA in an emailed statement to the Star on Tuesday.

College students penned an open letter earlier this month addressed to the CEC, OPSEU, and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities.

The Ontario Students Association expressed fear of a repeat of the 2017 strike, which it says, “left students feeling that the culminating weeks of their year were rushed and incomplete, that they were unprepared for the workforce, and that their relationships on campus were damaged.”

The 2017 strike lasted five weeks before the province passed back-to-work legislation paving the way for students to return to class.

What is the union fighting for?

Bargaining team chair JP Hornick said union members want better job security for faculty who are on partial-load contracts. Hornick said the CEC reported profits of $1.65 billion in the last five years, most of it coming from outside contracts, unpaid overtime and uncompensated work of partial-load staff.

She added that due to Bill 124, which caps public-sector wage increases at one per cent a year for the next three years, the union is not bargaining for additional compensation.

The union is also demanding the following terms:

  • An improved mechanism to evaluate instructor workload
  • Increase maximum time they can dedicate to evaluate to 6.8 minutes per student, per week. Right now, this figure stands at five minutes per student.
  • Preparation time for online learning
  • Stop contracting out counsellors and other faculty work, especially in the midst of a mental health crisis for students.
  • Hire full-time academic librarians. There are 11 colleges without a full-time academic librarian and all of them offer degree programs.
  • Get faculty consent before the sale or reuse of faculty course materials.
  • Jointly led committees and round tables that can actually study, make and implement changes around workload, equity, and Indigenization, decolonization and Truth and Reconciliation.

What is CEC’s response?

The CEC says it made “numerous attempts to reach an agreement” with the union, and that in March 2021, asked OPSEU to, “extend the current agreement without any changes so that we could complete the school year without interruption and recognize the uncertain times in which we are living.” According to a statement by the CEC, the union rejected the request without discussion.

The CEC says the union is, “demanding changes that they know colleges cannot make,” like, “demands about their workload that violate the law governing compensation.”

“The Union is claiming it had no choice but to strike because the Colleges have refused to bargain and have refused arbitration. This is simply untrue.” read the statement by the council representing colleges.

Binding interest vs. final offer arbitration

In labour disputes, binding interest arbitration is often used in post-secondary education bargaining in order to resolve differences in the proposals from both sides. A third party neutral arbitrator is asked to review both proposals and “creates a compromise from the two proposals,” OPSEUs said. The union says binding interest is an alternative to a strike or a lockout.

The CEC, says the union, uses a different form of arbitration where the arbitrator selects the proposal from only one of the parties and appears to double down on its refusal to enter binding interest arbitration.

“These demands fall well outside any acceptable provision. We can never accept them,” says the CEC.

With files from Joshua Chong and Akrit Michael.

Ivy Mak is a team editor on the Star’s breaking news desk, based in Toronto. Reach her via email: ivymak@thestar.ca