Ontario college faculty are back to the bargaining table this week after more than two-thirds have given their union a strike mandate.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) held a vote Sept. 14 on whether faculty members of Ontario’s 24 colleges would be willing to strike to back contracts demand.
Sixty-eight per cent of the college faculty voted yes to the strike mandate. This gives the OPSEU the ability to call a strike, not that they will necessarily have one.
The current contract for the 12,000 professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians expires Sept. 30. No deadlines have been set for a strike or lockout.
“Hopefully this strike vote will be the incentive the colleges need to start negotiating for real,” says union bargaining team chair JP Hornick.
OPSEU and the College Employer Council have been negotiating since early July. The last time the two sides met was Aug. 28 and then the strike vote was scheduled.
“College faculty from across the province debated and voted on 16 proposals to improve the quality and fairness of the college system in Ontario,” Hornick says. “Since bargaining started 10 weeks ago, management has ignored every single one of them.”
In an email to college faculty sent prior to the strike vote, Durham College president Don Lovisa encouraged faculty to stay informed about the issues and exercise their right to vote.
“No one wants a strike but unfortunately the parties at the bargaining table remain far apart with two very different visions for Ontario’s college system,” Lovisa says in the email. “Whether the faculty vote in favour of striking or not, the outcome won’t change the colleges’ view on these key issues or the colleges’ ability to accept the changes proposed.”
Some key issues that are being negotiated are wage increases, job security and the role faculty have in academic decision-making, says OPSEU.
Currently, OPSEU says 81 per cent of college faculty are contracted rather than full-time positions and since the last contract in 2013, the number of contracted faculty has increased by ten per cent while the number of full-time positions has remained the same.
This leaves some professors applying for jobs they already have every four months. Contract faculty are also paid less than full-time faculty for the same work, says Hornick.
Academic staff at colleges would be getting a wage increase of 7.5 per cent over the next three years with the current offer made by the College Employer Council with a new maximum salary of $115, 094 a year.
OPSEU says the wage increase offered could be less than the rate of inflation and lower than the rising cost of living.
“College faculty have the full support of their union in getting a fair collective agreement that addresses their issues,” OPSEU President Warren Thomas says. “And we have $72 million in the strike fund to back it up.”
In the past 50 years Ontario college academic faculty have only had 12 strike votes and only three have resulted in a strike, says OPSEU. The last time strike was on the table was 2010 but was adverted when they came to an agreement.
If the OPSEU decides to go on strike, it would affect about 230, 000 students who attend college all around Ontario, including 11,000 students at Durham College.