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College professors preparing for possible strike action

Professors and teaching staff at colleges across Ontario, including Confederation College, could be on the picket line on Monday, shutting down all academic programs.

THUNDER BAY - Professors and teaching staff at colleges across Ontario could be walking the picket line as early as next Monday, which will leave thousands of students at Confederation College locked out of the classroom.

Negotiations between the Ontario Public Service Employees Union and the College Employer Council have broken down and the union is in a strike position as of Monday, Oct. 16. OPSEU represents more than 12,000 professors, teaching staff, counsellors, and librarian staff at 24 public colleges across the province.

According to Rebecca Ward, president of OPSEU Local 732 Academic Union at Confederation College, some of the top bargaining priorities that the union has been fighting for include creating more stability, increasing the number of full-time staff, and greater academic freedom.  

Ward said 80 per cent of the teaching staff at Confederation College are part-time contract workers, while 20 per cent are full-time staff.

“We are very concerned about the quality of education we are delivering to students right now given the precarious workforce,” she said. “Essentially that means we have 80 per cent part time faculty who have overwhelming workloads.”

There are approximately 150 full time professors at Confederation College, with an additional 300 part-time contract staff. There is no consistency for students, Ward said, which impacts the education students are receiving.

“We are invested in trying to recreate the system in which there is some stability and we feel confident that we are delivering a quality product,” she said. “They deserve that. They are paying tuition.”

In the event of a strike, Ward said most of those part-time contract staff would be laid off and she hopes it will not come to that.

“That’s our hope,” she said. “We do not want to strike. We have not wanted to strike.”

The union has been without a contract since Sept. 30, 2017 and during a Sept. 15 vote, 85 per cent of members voted in favour of possible strike action.

In the event of a strike, Ken Adams, vice president of College Services at Confederation College, said there are plans in place.

“We have developed a contingency plan and we are working on that until we receive formal notice,” he said. “Based on the information we have at this point, we are looking at ceasing all academic programs as of Monday and there will be various college services that will be available to the public, but we are suggesting that people can expect delays on Monday with picket lines.”

Adams said the main concern is the students, adding students have been informed of possible strike action and will be kept up-to-date.

“We are hoping that it will be a short strike,” he said. “One of the things we want to point out is that we are committed to ensure that all students will complete their studies by year end.”

As for the impact on the academic year if a possible strike becomes prolonged, Adams said the situation will have to be looked at depending on the length of the strike. 

Negotiations have been ongoing since July and a final offer was made by the College Employer Council on Oct. 10. The offer included a 7.75 per cent wage increase over four years, more flexibility for overtime work, and giving preference to contract faculty where operational requirements allow.

The offer was rejected by the union and Ward said the College Employer Council has not been willing to budge on key issues.

“They simply say no,” she said. “They have said the same thing since we began bargaining in July. They have put forward two proposals that are all about money, but we are not fighting for money.”