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College Faculty gather virtually for successful Pre-Bargaining Conference

Zoom image of six CAAT-A team members
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On November 20-21, a group of enthusiastic CAAT-A delegates gathered virtually to survey the current bargaining environment and elect their 2021 bargaining team. Chair RM Kennedy led attendees through an agenda devoted to an overview of key issues facing college faculty and students in the midst of the pandemic. Presentations from labour allies, information about organizing initiatives, and a survey of bargaining priorities rounded out the conference.

OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas kicked off the meeting by addressing a number of developments of concern to CAAT-A, including employer attacks on faculty working conditions through supersized classes, magnified workload and threats to intellectual property.

“You’re the ones with the irreplaceable knowledge and experience that must complement and modify policies cooked up by bean-counters and paper-pushers who’ve never taken or taught a college class,” Thomas said. “We urgently need to reform the colleges’ governance system to ensure all decisions about new credentials are made in conjunction with academic staff and students.”

“You stood up to this Employer during the 2017 strike and we’re again standing with you during the upcoming round of bargaining,” Thomas added.

First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida underscored the critical importance of restoring proper funding to colleges, while reaffirming the union’s full support of faculty during their negotiations.

“You can be absolutely certain I’ll be with you every step of the way to support you and advance bargaining in every way possible – including by putting the full resources of OPSEU/SEFPO at your disposal,” he assured members. “We’re absolutely determined to protect our hard-fought gains and keep college faculty moving in the right direction.”

Randy Robinson, Ontario Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, provided insight into the economic and political landscape of Ontario, underscoring that 97 per cent of the government’s spending on supports during the pandemic were actually from federal, not provincial, funds. RM Kennedy followed with a frank and comprehensive rundown of developments in the sector over the past year, with particular focus on the Colleges Ontario-commissioned paper, misleadingly titled The Future of Ontario’s Workers, and its troubling promotion of precarity and micro-credentials.

Dr. Larry Savage, a professor of labour studies at Brock University and chief negotiator of the Brock University Faculty Association, detailed a series of gains university faculty were able to achieve during their negotiations earlier this year despite the pandemic and limits imposed by the Ford government’s cap on public service sector wages and benefits. Improvements to shared governance, intellectual property rights, workload and limiting privatization, along with language promoting Indigenization and decolonization, were all won this round. Dr. Savage credited good communication, member education and faculty solidarity with giving the team the strength they needed to make those gains.

Martin Devitt, CAAT-A DivEx vice-chair, and Kevin MacKay, Local 240 (Mohawk), presented on the update to the union’s 2014 Report on Education in Ontario Colleges. In addition, Devitt reviewed recent improvements to the bargaining process, including direct consultation with local leadership and membership during negotiations, through the Bargaining Advisory Committee and local presidents’ group. OPSEU/SEFPO organizer Gissel Yanez followed with an update on the ongoing battle to count the vote in the non-unionized contract faculty certification process.

Day two was devoted to delegates of the 24 CAAT-A locals acting upon their members’ interests in the upcoming round of bargaining, including identifying major issues facing each college and electing the following 2021 bargaining team:

 

JP Hornick, Local 556 (George Brown) – chair
Jonathan Singer, Local 560 (Seneca) – vice-chair
Ravi Ramkissoonsingh, Local 242 (Niagara)
Rebecca Ward, Local 732 (Confederation)
Kathleen Flynn, Local 354 (Durham)
Shawn Pentecost, Local 415 (Algonquin)
Michelle Arbour, Local 125 (Lambton)

Two alternates were also elected:

Karen Weisbaum, Local 417 (St. Lawrence)
Frank Yee, Local 560 (Seneca)

This round’s elections included a large field of engaged candidates – an encouraging sign of solidarity that augurs well for the success of negotiations. While the college faculty collective agreement expires on September 30, 2021, preparations are well underway for a round rooted in faculty power.