(WINDSOR, ON) – Into their second week of a work stoppage, striking faculty at St Clair College today held a rally to demonstrate their resolve and solidarity. Joining the teaching staff were students at the college along with supporters from other Windsor union locals and both OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas and chief negotiator JP Hornick.
The union is attempting to negotiate a new contract for faculty and support staff, but talks are at an impasse.
“We’re still in the same position as when the strike started,” Hornick said. “We called the mediator to see if (the colleges) are ready to move from the position they’ve held since July, which has been not to negotiate, but to try and stonewall. They replied with, ‘No. They’re not changing their position.’”
More than 12,000 faculty at 24 colleges across the province have been on strike since October 16. Ontario’s College Employer Council, negotiating on behalf of the government, has said that OPSEU’s demands are too costly. The union responds that many of the issues have no cost attached to them and that negotiations can’t happen if CEC isn’t willing to be at the table.
“Even on the no-cost items surrounding academic freedom, collegiate governance, better security for the partial load in the form of one-year contracts rather than four-month to four-month contracts, they refuse to negotiate on any of those issues,” Hornick told media. “This has become clear that College Council and administrators are holding on to power and profit rather than looking out for he best interests of the students or the faculty.”
Classes are currently cancelled at the colleges, including St Clair, and the Liberal government has recently said it will not seek to legislate the teachers back to work. Hornick said that the students’ semester is very close to being in jeopardy as the strike approaches week three.
“Students are justifiably frustrated and concerned and honestly we feel for them. We feel the College Council is holding both the students and the faculty hostage at this point,” said Hornick. “There’s no reason we can’t be at that bargaining table. We’ve also seen incredible student support. More than I’ve seen at any other labour dispute in Ontario.”
Smokey Thomas wants to see the sides return to bargaining before students lose out on their education.
“When the faculty go back, they know, they’ll work really hard to make sure that nobody will be disadvantaged,” said Thomas. “There is some suffering. It’s called collateral damage. It’s extremely unfortunate, but the employer did put us in the position.”
On the cost issues, OPSEU is attempting to secure job security and equal pay for equal work for its members. The issue for union negotiators is for a 50 per cent split between full-time and part-time faculty while currently it is around 75 per cent.
“I recognize that organizations do need part-time workers, some people just want to work part-time, and sometimes there’s not enough work to make that person full-time,” Thomas said. “But you need some rules around how you treat those part-time workers. So, that’s the crux of the battle here. How are you going to treat your workforce?”
OPSEU is planning a rally to be held on November 2 at Queen’s Park with members being bussed in from across the province, in order to put more pressure on Deb Matthews, Ontario’s Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, to get both sides back to the bargaining table.
“We’re just trying to pressure the government into exerting some influence,” said Thomas. “I appreciate that they’re not thinking legislation, but they can exert some influence as they are major funders of the colleges. I don’t think it’s a great stretch to settle the strike.”