College faculty want a better college system – a strong strike vote gives us the power to get it
Fifty years after its founding, Ontario’s college system is broken. It is underfunded. It is unfair. And despite the efforts of faculty who work every day to keep it functioning, it is unable to deliver the quality of education our students deserve.
Now, this week, the college faculty campaign to fix this system enters a new phase.
This Thursday, September 14, OPSEU college faculty at all 24 colleges will cast their ballots in what may be the most important strike vote in a generation. The arithmetic of the vote is simple: every faculty member who votes YES gives the team more power to negotiate the best deal possible.
This means more power to negotiate a collegial governance system that gives faculty a voice in academic decisions.
It means more power to negotiate fair wages, and fair treatment, for contract faculty who do the same work as full-time faculty, but at a fraction of the pay.
It means more power to negotiate on all the issues that colleges faculty identified in the demand-setting process. These are issues we care about – issues like academic freedom; respect for our intellectual property; reasonable workloads for librarians; posting and filling of full-time faculty positions; and meaningful language to stop the privatization of faculty jobs.
These are not all the issues we’re bargaining about, but no matter what your own top priority is, the only way we can move forward on it is by showing we’re serious. And that starts with a strong strike vote.
Say no to concessions
We don’t just need a strong strike vote to move forward on our issues; we also need it to fend off our employer’s demands for concessions.
Right now, 81 per cent of teaching in the colleges is done by contract faculty. That number has shot up by more than 10 per cent since our last round of bargaining, and a big reason why is the freeze on posting and filling jobs under Article 2 of the collective agreement. If management has its way, that freeze will be extended in the upcoming contract. If that happens, what percentage of teaching will be done by contract faculty by the time of our next round of bargaining? Eighty-five per cent? Ninety? More?
Management has made it clear at the bargaining table that it could further reduce full-time faculty and still keep the colleges running. We can’t let them go any further down that road. It’s no way to build a stable, secure workforce – and the reduction in full-time positions that the employer is leading us toward could have catastrophic effects on our pension plan.
A strong strike vote doesn’t mean we’re going on strike. On the contrary: strong strike votes typically encourage employers to bargain. That is what we are trying to do. Getting the colleges to bargain has been our number one goal throughout this round of bargaining, and it will remain our goal to the end.
Obviously, we are not bargaining to get a strike; we are bargaining to get a contract. But faculty cannot accept a contract like the one the colleges are trying to sell us now. We can only accept a contract that recognizes the role of faculty in ensuring student success. We can only accept a contract that recognizes that the days of exploiting contract faculty are over. At this stage, nothing will do more to give us the fair contract we need than a strong strike vote.
The future is calling
This round of college faculty bargaining takes place at a historic moment, in two major ways.
First, colleges have evolved to the point where every college is in some kind of strategic partnership with a university; indeed, many colleges are degree-granting institutions. Yet our college administrators fail utterly to recognize the academic necessity of modernizing governance to reflect these changes.
Second, the world of work has changed. Underpaid, insecure contract work is everywhere – nowhere more so than in the colleges. But workers today are demanding something better. They are refusing to accept that, no matter how many hours they put in, they will never have the income they need to live decently, raise a family if they want to, or retire with dignity. To its credit, the Government of Ontario has responded to the growing outcry from working people with proposals to improve both labour laws and employment standards. Yet college administrators are not getting the message. For too long, their workforce strategy has been a cheap labour strategy; they can’t seem to see past their old way of thinking. There is no operating model in the world that can offer a quality experience when 81 per cent of workers can barely make ends meet.
There is no question that our colleges must offer state-of-the-art education to the workforce of the future. There is no question that our college workplaces must be places where all faculty, and all workers, have jobs they can count on so they can concentrate on delivering that education.
The only obstacle to the better college system we all want is the intransigence of college administrators who can’t see – not yet – the solutions that are staring them in the face. The future is calling; let’s make them hear.
On September 14, vote YES.
Chair, College faculty bargaining team
Vote times and locations
Vote times and locations for the 2017 OPSEU college faculty strike vote are available online here.
Find out more
To learn more about the issues in this round of bargaining, please visit our website at www.collegefaculty.org.