The college faculty strike has dragged into week three after negotiations halted last week, leaving 500,000 students across 24 colleges in Ontario with questions on how much class time they will miss.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents the 12,000 striking teachers, librarians, counsellors and instructors, said it is ready to hear a new proposal from the other side. The College Employers Council (CEC) has said its final offer was on the table when talks broke down before 8 p.m. last Sunday.
“When [management] walked out, we told the person that’s helping us from the ministry that we are ready to come back to the table at any time, even Saturdays and Sundays,” says Tom Tomassi, president of the OPSEU Local 556 of George Brown College.
OPSEU has asked for more governing power through a joint teacher-student-administrator senate system in colleges. CEC’s last deal included a 7.75 per cent salary increase over four years, a new full-time faculty salary cap of $115,378, switching more contract faculty to full-time positions, more faculty decision making on their workload and improvements to benefits.
“They won’t even discuss the senate,” says Robert Malowany, counsellor at George Brown and a picket captain for OPSEU. If the strike was about pay, it would have been over already, he added.
OPSEU is asking for job stability of longer than a semester for partial-load faculty, an equal split between full-time and contract faculty instead of the more than 70 per cent contract faculty today, and academic freedom to give faculty a stronger voice in academic decision making. CEC has said the changes would cost $250 million a year to implement.
The College Student Alliance (CSA) has sent a letter to members of government to legislate a solution, but the province has indicated it does not want to get involved. The group has planned a rally on Nov. 1 at Queen’s Park to call for a deal.
The Ryerson School of Nursing’s website is telling students in their third and fourth year who went to George Brown or Centennial College last year that they will miss required practical hours and conferences during the strike. Third-year students who enrolled in the joint nursing program and spent the first two years of their degree at the two colleges have their clinical placements cancelled, cutting them out of 15 hours of lab time a week. Ryerson’s nursing program management staff will serve as interim faculty advisors for fourth-year students with home rooms in the two colleges.
“I don’t think it’s really fair that the teachers can’t contact us, that we’re getting updates so late or we’re not getting updates at all. And it’s really frustrating because we have to know if we should be preparing for school,” says Shahani Pieris, second-year student in Ryerson’s nursing program with Centennial.
Questions on whether the semester should be extended, the course load intensified or whether some courses will not be completed still looms. A Change.org petition started before the strike began, asking full-time and part-time students be reimbursed $30 and $20 a day each. “We lose learning. We lose time. We demand a refund,” the petition reads. It has over 120,995 signatures as of Wednesday morning.
“I think if we’re sitting down, we can hammer out a deal of some sort,” says Tomassi. “Our people are committed to work out a deal at the table, but they have to be there in order to do it,” he added.
The last college faculty strike lasted 18 days in March 2006, with over 8,900 faculty members on the picket line.