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College faculty prepare for strike vote
In this edition: lockout or job action looms for Ontario colleges, PHO's provincial risk assessment of Omicron, meet the parliamentary secretaries
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In this 7 minute read, colleges in Ontario are preparing for job action or lockdown — what you need to know about the negotiations and strike vote. Plus, Trudeau names parliamentary secretaries and inside Public Health Ontario’s provincial risk assessment of the Omicron variant.
Lockout or job action is looming for colleges in Ontario. A strike mandate vote for college faculty will begin Thursday after talks between the government-mandated agent representing the province’s 24 publicly-funded institutions and the union representing college faculty stalled in mid-November.
The College Employer Council is the government-mandated agent for bargaining with unionized employees on behalf of the colleges. The 17,000 faculty members are represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. Both parties have been negotiating a new collective agreement since early July.
What happened? The previous contract — which was set to expire on September 30 — was frozen until a new collective agreement was reached by both sides. In early July, the two bargaining teams met via Zoom to discuss ground rules of negotiation, provide opening statements and initial proposals. By mid-September, the college council tabled a “without prejudice settlement offer,” which allows both bargaining teams to address shared interests.
In mid-November, the council declared that both mediation and conciliation have failed, requesting a no-board report. According to the union, the report was issued on November 23. This triggers a 17-day “cooling off” period before the current collective agreement freeze ends next Monday. That is the earliest a lockout can be imposed, and faculty are in a legal strike position.
In a phone interview with newsBeyond, JP Hornick, the chair of the college faculty bargaining team said the strike vote will begin on Thursday, calling the process “unnecessarily stressful for everyone.” “What we said to the employer was that if you're going to file a no-board report, then we have no choice,” Hornick told us.
Without a job action mandate, Hornick says the colleges can impose any labour conditions once the current collective agreement freeze ends. If job action were to occur, the union has promised students and faculty that they would not start with a full strike. “We’re going to go to a work-to-rule situation,” Hornick added.
“Unfortunately strikes start with strike votes and we hope we can avoid any labour interruption,” Graham Lloyd, CEO of the College Employer Council told newsBeyond in a statement. “The colleges will never lock-out faculty or impose terms that negatively affect employees and students,” Lloyd added.
Faculty demands — workload, staffing, equity and professionalism
The faculty demands include four themes — workload, staffing, equity and professionalism. Here are some highlights, according to Hornick:
Increase time for grading student work: “Right now, the maximum time any faculty has to grade student work is just over 5 minutes per student per week. We’re looking for a modest increase of up to 7 minutes per student per week while we collect data through a task force that would actually have teeth.”
Partial load faculty: “Many partial load faculty have been working in colleges for decades, but they have to reapply for their job every four months. They simply don't have the same workload protections as a full-time. Full-time faculty have a 44-hour week maximum, so our class sizes are limited. Colleges can generally cram as many students as they want into partial-load faculty classes, and they get paid just by the teaching contact hour. Basically, they're exploited and underpaid. We’re trying to take make some gains for those folks, as well.”
Private colleges and international students: “The Auditor General's report that came out recently about private colleges that target international students and the lack of oversight and quality in the exploitation of those students. One of the things that have been happening with the Ford government is that they've been really pushing for the colleges to contract with private colleges. We're trying to keep that work from going outside the public system because that's where the oversight and quality of education is maintained.”
“We're not arguing about compensation,” Hornick warned. “The compensation cap for public service workers applies to college faculty, so everybody is limited to 1% per year for at least three years. Nobody is arguing about wages. We can't.”
College council requests ‘final offer selection arbitration’
Lloyd says the council “has asked for Voluntary Binding Final Offer Selection Interest Arbitration.” “This proposal enables an arbitrator to determine whether an agreement can be reached and if not, to make a final binding decision selecting one proposal or the other without any amendments,” he added.
In a statement to newsBeyond, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour said “we encourage the employer and the union to make every effort to resolve their differences at the bargaining table.” Minister Jill Dunlop’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the ongoing dispute.
The last negotiations between both parties took place in 2017 — the result of which was a five-week strike before back-to-work legislation was passed by Kathleen Wynne’s government.
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Last week’s question was: when are MPs expected to move back to the Centre Block? Renovations are expected to last until 2030 at the earliest and will cost up to $5 billion. More from the federal government.
THIS WEEK’S QUESTION: What was the name of the provincial Minister of Colleges and Universities during the 2017 college strike. Here’s a hint — they previously served as the province’s Minister of Health. Send your answers to email@example.com or reply to this email.