Now that 8,000 college support staff are on strike, a lot of commentators will blame the workers. This is the standard response from right-wing pundits, politicians, and news outlets. Facts don’t matter for these folks. As far as they’re concerned, workers are always greedy and the boss is always right – even when the boss is wrong.
And the boss is dead wrong on this one. The colleges themselves have kicked off the strike by claiming they have no concessions on the table. This is not true. The colleges’ proposals are all concessions, as anyone can see by looking at their wage offer. The colleges are not offering a wage increase at all. After inflation, they are offering a pay cut.
But this strike is about something much bigger than wage rates. What’s at stake is the future of good, full-time jobs.
Now more than ever, Ontario needs the good jobs that let people live decently, bring their kids up the way they want to, and retire with dignity. Right now, only five out of eight jobs in Ontario is a full-time permanent job. The rest are part-time, temporary jobs, or self-employed jobs that are barely jobs at all.
Considering that they train the workforce of the future, the colleges should be a model employer. Instead, they are leading the charge to a part-time workforce. Today in the colleges, there are more part-timers than full-timers. Part-time college workers get paid less, have fewer benefits, and can never be sure how long they’ll have a job.
The colleges are also moving to more and more temporary contract jobs. The education sector has eight per cent of the jobs in Canada but 22 per cent of the temp jobs.
Make no mistake about it. This is a cheap labour strategy, and our colleges are leading the way. Their approach to bargaining is like a tornado tearing away at a house, where they are the tornado and good jobs are the house. Every board that gets torn off, every window that gets broken, weakens the whole structure – until one day, the whole structure is gone.
I applaud our college support members for their courage in standing up to this bad employer. Our members are protecting good jobs, not just for themselves, but for the next generation.
I know we are fighting for what the public wants and what the public is concerned about. Students are worried about jobs. So are their parents. So are we all. If we can tell our story to students, parents, friends, neighbours, and relatives, we can get public opinion on side. And that, combined with our power on the picket line, will make the colleges listen.
There are lots of ways to support our striking college members. Please come out to a picket line near you, and most of all, please help spread our message.
Because the future of good, full-time jobs is on the line.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President
Ontario Public Service Employees Union