Faculty strike: What happened?

Durham College faculty on picketing at the Oshawa Campus by the Student Services Building.

College faculty are still without a contract after a five-week strike, the longest in Ontario history, ended Nov. 20. Currently, faculty are operating under their old contract while waiting for mediation to begin with the colleges.

In early July, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents college faculty, started negotiations with the Ontario colleges’ bargaining team, the College Employer Council. By Aug. 28, the two sides were deadlocked.

That day, OPSEU set a vote on Sept. 14 for faculty to give them the ability to call a strike. Sixty-eight per cent of faculty voted in favour of strike action.

OPSEU and the council went back to the bargaining table at that point but were still unable to get around key issues involving academic freedom and contract faculty.

The main concern, which became the focus of the strike, was contract faculty.

“We can’t continue to have this high level of contract faculty,” said Nicole Zwiers, president of OPSEU Local 354, representing faculty, counsellors and librarians at Durham College.

Contract faculty make up 81 per cent of college faculty and not only are the jobs insecure, but they are also paid less for the same work, Zwiers said.

Durham College president Don Lovisa, said colleges would like to have more full-time faculty but Ontario colleges are under-funded by the government.

“This is a chronic under-funding problem,” Lovisa said. “So it puts a lot of pressure on the college system to find efficiencies through your staff. Sixty-five per cent of my budget is my staff.

So, you have to find efficiencies and unfortunately that forces us to hire part-time staff.”

On Oct. 10, OPSEU gave its five-day strike notice hoping that it could jump-start the negotiations since the contract of college faculty expired Sept. 30.

The two sides made no progress, both giving each other last offers before the strike started Oct. 16.

OPSEU wanted a 50-50 ratio of contract faculty to full-time faculty and the council made a new type of temporary full-time position to try and reduce the number of contract workers.

“They would be eliminating the need to hire anyone full time. Because they could simply go forever, conceivably, with these temporary full time. So, they’d be working full-time hours, but getting paid at the partial-load rate. There would be no job security beyond the semester they’re teaching. And entirely at the discretion of the colleges to whether or not they even need them.”

For the first three weeks of the strike, the two sides did not talk. On Nov. 2 the College Employer Council came back to the table and the two sides spent the weekend negotiating. OPSEU said they were getting close to agreement when the council forced faculty to vote on the offer faculty had already rejected via their strike vote.

It took 10 days to organize and carry out the vote. Ninety-five per cent of college faculty voted on the new contract and 86 per cent voted against it.

At this point, college faculty had been striking for five weeks and the provincial government stepped in.

Back-to-work legislation was pushed through Queen’s Park over a rare weekend sitting with the NDP being the only party opposing the proposal.

They were concerned about infringing on the faculty’s right to strike but by Nov. 20 faculty were back to school organizing and planning for the rest of the semester. Students returned to school on Nov. 21.

Arbitrator William Kaplan will begin mediation with the two sides Dec. 12. Both OPSEU and the council will fill Kaplan in on background information on the issues they are facing.

He will meet with OPSEU on Dec. 14 and the council on Dec. 15, says OPSEU

Between Dec. 16-17 the two sides and Kaplan will come together and discuss a new agreement. If they can still not come to a resolution, the mediation will turn into arbitration.

Kaplan will settle the unresolved matters and give the two sides a new, legally binding collective agreement says OPSEU.

Arbitration starts January if the two sides cannot come to an agreement.