Unless a labour agreement is reached this weekend, post-secondary students at all of Ontario’s 24 public colleges, including Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre in East York, may soon see their classes cancelled, because of a faculty strike.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) has set a strike date of Monday, October 16.
The staff, including 12,000 full-time and partial-load (over six hours up to 12 hours weekly) faculty, librarians and counsellors represented by the union voted last month to strike, if need be.
“The purpose of setting a strike deadline is to get negotiations moving – before it’s too late,” said JP Hornick, the lead negotiator for the union, in a media release.
OPSEU has a list of demands, including calls for partial-load faculty to be paid equally to the full-time faculty. The union also wants part-time staff, those teaching up to six hours per week, to be paid better and have more job security.
“Eighty-one percent of college faculty are on contract,” Hornick said.
The union wants an eventual 50-50 parity between full-time and contract faculty, to be put in place over the four years of a new labour contract.
At present, part-time teachers are not members of the union, but in a separate action, part-time college faculty are voting, through October 13, whether to join OPSEU. A typical college contract for part-time faculty is four months.
“Vast majority of contract faculty need and want full-time stable jobs,” said RM Kennedy, a vice-president of OPSEU Local 558, representing employees at Centennial College in Toronto. Kennedy described how difficult it is for staff to plan ahead, based on four-month contracts, while being paid less than full-time faculty.
The colleges disagree, citing a different way of looking at the issue: that 49 percent of teaching hours are provided by full-time faculty. Sonia Del Missier, who speaks for the colleges’ negotiating team, stressed the need for colleges to have staffing flexibility while maintaining “fiscal responsibility.”
Del Missier talks of part-time staff being part of the mix in planning ahead, term-to-term.
“A key message is you staff based on program needs,” she said. “The program requires full time and part-time staff.”
On the union’s demand to create more full-time jobs, with benefits, Del Missier wonders where the money will come from.
“The union demands, including the ones around the staffing, would cost more than $400 million, so we are looking at significant costs to the system,” Missier said.
OPSEU also wants a greater say for faculty in setting academic policy. It calls for every college to have a senate with faculty representation, similar to the way things work now at Ontario universities.
The union’s call for college senates is a “governance issue” and outside the scope of the union negotiations, Del Missier countered.
Having more faculty say on academic policy, said OPSEU’s Hornick, is a matter of “will”.
The colleges have just increased the offer on wages, to a 7.75 percent raise over four years.
“Their (OPSEU’s) wage position would see a 10 per cent increase over three years,” Missier said, compared to the colleges’ offer. “It is a very good offer that we feel would form the basis for a settlement.”
She pointed out that the colleges’ offer is very much in line with recent settlements with other public sector unions.
“Our message to students is that our issues are actually your issues, too, because the class size, stable faculty, those are things that really matter to students,” Kennedy added. “We’re bargaining around equality of system.”
Two other issues loom over the negotiations. Equal pay for equal work legislation and proposed pay raises for college presidents.
Bill 148: Equal pay for equal work
The Ontario government is expected to pass Bill 148 this fall, legislation that calls for equal pay for equal work. It could complicate the negotiations. It would mean that colleges provide equal pay for equal work, regardless of full-time or part-time faculty. OPSEU’s Kennedy wants to ensure that colleges don’t seek a clause to “nullify” Bill 148 in the contract.
The union’s September 28 bulletin to college faculty claimed that colleges have the funds for equal pay. It cites the latest report on college finances from the College Financial Information System of the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, whereby the colleges had a surplus of $189 million in 2016-17.
When asked how colleges could meet the requirements for equal pay for all faculty, Del Missier acknowledged the financial impact would be “signifiant”.
“Once the labour law changes…there will be the need for that discussion and in our offer it does allow for third party arbitration,” Del Missier said. “That would need to be thoroughly reviewed once that it becomes law.”
A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, Ingrid Anderson said all colleges will need to follow the new law.
“The proposed equal pay for equal work provision in Bill 148 would require casual, part-time…employees to be paid equally to full-time employees when performing the same job for the same employer,” Anderson said.
She talked of Bill 148 creating “challenges” for colleges. “We plan to be an active partner and will be working with our institutions to help them manage the transition,” she said.
Big increase in colleges’ presidents’ pay?
Colleges are expected soon to come back a second time with proposed salary increases for senior executives, including school presidents. Last January, the colleges proposed their presidents get a range of maximum salary increases as high as 40-50 percent, after a salary freeze since 2012.
After pushback by the public, labour, media and elected officials, Deputy Premier Deb Matthews told colleges to come back with a more modest proposal.
Any new proposed college presidents’ salary increases into double digits would serve as a contrast to the colleges’ proposed offer of 7.5 percent pay increase over the next four years.
Uncertain next steps
Both sides took a break from negotiations in late September. On October 5, OPSEU called for the colleges representatives to continue negotiations. The union accused the colleges of turning down all its proposals.
“(Faculty) are in it for the students,” said the union’s Hornick. “We want to be in the classrooms. We want to be in the libraries.”
Hornick talks of continuing the negotiations if progress is made in the discussions with the colleges.
“We are committed to get a negotiated settlement,” spokesperson Del Missier said. “Strikes are not good for anybody. I don’t think anybody wants a strike.”