OPSEU Receives Strike Mandate from College Faculty

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College faculty have moved one step closer this week to a potential strike.

In a strike vote held for faculty across all of Ontario's 24 public colleges Thursday evening, 68 per cent voted in favour of a strike mandate.

This does not mean a strike will necessarily happen. In fact, no strike or lockout deadline has been set. For the OPSEU bargaining team representing 12,000 professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians, the vote means a potential strike is on the table if both sides can't reach an agreement.

JP Hornick, who chairs the OPSEU's Colleges Academic Bargaining Team, says the strike mandate is a means to an end, which sends a signal to negotiators that could help avoid a strike.

"A strong strike vote doesn't mean we're going on strike. On the contrary: strong strike votes typically encourage employers to bargain...Getting the colleges to bargain has been our number one goal throughout this round of bargaining, and it will remain our goal to the end. Obviously, we are not bargaining to get a strike; we are bargaining to get a contract."

Hornick restated this position following the vote.

"Hopefully this strike vote will be the incentive the colleges need to start negotiating for real."

OPSEU has raised several issues throughout the latest round of negotiations with the College Employer Council, but the most prominent have been a push to give faculty more input on decisions in the collegial governance system, a "reasonable work load" for librarians, and the hiring of a rising percentage of contract faculty.

In a statement on Tuesday, Hornick expressed concern that a reduction in full-time faculty "could have catastrophic effects on our pension plan."

A "Yes" vote is as much about rejecting employers' terms as putting forward their own, he said.

Colleges are seeking an extended freeze on posting and filling jobs under Article 2 of the collective agreement. This would allow the hiring of more contract faculty in place of full-time positions.

"With the introduction of Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 'equal pay for equal work' has become a top issue not only for college faculty, but for college administration as well," Hornick said, adding that it will be a "key feature in any settlement."

As for collegial governance, Hornick said in a phone interview that her team wants to modernize the system to recognize the growing number of partnerships between colleges and universities.

At universities, governing bodies called academic or faculty senates can be involved in decisions affecting course materials, evaluation methods and more. Colleges should have a similar system, Hornick says, to ease the process for transfer credits, which recognize overlap in students’ learning as they move between post-secondary institutions. Currently, she says, college faculty are excluded from such decisions.

At colleges, Hornick says, faculty remain excluded from such decisions.

Don Sinclair, CEO of the College Employer Council, said he’s not suprised about the vote, but his team is eager to head back to the bargaining table.

“We have an offer on the table…We’re committed to getting a negotiated settlement,” he said.

Bargaining for a new contract began ten weeks ago. It is scheduled to resume on Sept. 18.

The current collective agreement will expire Sept. 30th.

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