2017 Negotiations Messages (#1)

Goodness, dear reader – has it really been so long?

Where to begin?

Well… let’s just dive in, shall we?

So, it’s a bargaining summer.

The teams have assembled, and both sides have made a move, so I suppose that the game is underway, and it’s as good a time as any to start the play-by-play analysis.

White moves first, and first move was taken by the OPSEU College of Applied Arts and Technology – Academic (CAAT-A) Bargaining Team, who published their Negotiations Bulletin in March.

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1. P-Kb4 …

Actually, I should back up – the first Negotiations Bulletin was actually published back last December (and is also linked to the right column of this page). But it’s a bit unorthodox for white to move twice in a row, so thank you, Union Bargaining Team, for messing up my conceit before the fourth paragraph.

Now, noting that no demands had been settled on in December, 2016, that Bulletin devotes a page to the (now-complete) process of demand-setting, and three pages to profiles of the Union’s bargaining team. There’s more, which I’ll return to in upcoming days (he says, optimistically).

The more recent Negotiations Update, published in March, gives a bit of a clearer idea NB-2of the Union Bargaining Team’s communications approach. The newsletter on the whole seems to focus on the themes of 1. The bargaining process, 2. Diversity, and 3. A “back to basics” overview of what’s at stake in college faculty negotiations.

More specifically, pages 1 and 6 of the newsletter include a summary of the bargaining process thus far, as well as bargaining developments that are unique to this round of bargaining (and designed to increase the role of different faculty groups in the bargaining process); the list of demands on page 2 continues that theme – it includes demands that reflect all members, as well as specific demands targeted to benefit Partial-Load faculty, Counsellors, and Librarians.

That’s a hat-tip to the diversity of faculty areas within the bargaining unit, and the theme of diversity is extended a bit more broadly on pages 4 and 5, with photos of CAAT-A delegates attending a March 4 counter-protest concerning the anti-Islamophobia Parliamentary Motion M-103. (If I understand correctly, this was a protest against a protest against a Motion designed to protest the protest against influence of Islam in Canada.) (“Confused? You won’t be after this week’s episode…”)

But I got distracted by the pretty pictures.

Anyway, the “back to basics” theme of the newsletter takes the form of a “Message from the Chair” of the Bargaining Team, which contemplates the status of the original College system’s mandate on its 50th anniversary.  There are also liKnight3nks to two videos (one English; one French) under the heading “What’s this round all about?”, which outline many of the large-scale issues that indicate misplaced priorities within the system.

The Message from the Chair points out that the Ontario college system is enjoying its 50th anniversary this year, and questions the system’s current direction and priorities, compared to the original vision that guided its founding in 1967:

 

From a mandate of a united, government-funded system that would increase access to education for all, we have drifted into a collection of disparate elements, fighting over an ever-shrinking supply of inadequate funding. As the government has promoted competition for resources and enrollment, colleges have competed with each other in efforts to build their own fiefdoms, rather than working together to build up the whole system.

I look around and I see a college system that has turned away from investing in faculty, developing expertise, and providing the frontline services that ensure student success. Instead, I see example after example of mismanaged funds, misallocated priorities, and efforts to divert money that should be going to the front lines into the pockets of senior administrators.

In upcoming days (he says, optimistically), I hope to look at the College Employer Council Bargaining Team’s Academic Bargaining Update, as well as rounding out my look at the Union Bargaining Team’s Negotiating Bulletins and also taking a peek at competing messages surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Ontario College system.

In the meantime, feel free to e-mail me at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com with questions, comments, musings, or suggestions on how to bring this site up-to-date for the current round of bargaining and our current issues. As ever, letters may be edited and reprinted anonymously in future posts – it’s one way to communicate with your colleagues, provincewide.

How Working at a Community College Is Like Working Retail

The content of this article by Julie Garza Withers at Ethnography.com will come as news to absolutely none of the thousands of contract faculty at Ontario Colleges.  They know what it’s like to have to reapply for their own jobs every fourteen weeks, what it’s like to be treated as disposable or fungible by their employer, and what it’s like to know that their continued employment depends upon keeping their heads down, for fear of negative attention.

The article is significant for many things, but Withers reminds us of the fundamental injustice of the two-tiered employment structure so common in academia: Having two people side-by-side, boasting the same qualifications and experience, and offering equal value to the school, yet working under radically different conditions, for radically different rewards.  She writes:

At Barnes and Noble a low-ranked bookseller with limited responsibilities got paid accordingly; at the community college however, all of us faculty share the same level of responsibilities, but 70% of us are paid a pittance in comparison to our tenured peers.

While this article has a American bent, it applies all-too-well to Ontario Colleges.  The real question that people need to ask is this:  Do we want a Ontario College students to be taught by people to have the same working conditions and job security as retail employees?  Does that model promote the attention and commitment that Ontario’s students deserve?  Is that model appropriate to the function that Colleges serve for Ontario’s society and economy?

 

e duobus duo?

Well, yesterday’s post was probably the first time in a few years that one interesting tension in the Ontario College Faculty bargaining unit was mentioned in print – namely, the fact that our bargaining unit includes both Full-Time faculty and Partial-Load (contract) faculty. If memory serves, that fusion of groups in the bargaining unit was originally the result of a court ruling in the early days of the Bob Rae government (on the grounds of gender equity, I believe), but I’ll be happy to be corrected by somebody who might have more accurate, first-hand recollections.

In the past, where any grumbling had occurred regarding any difference in the needs of the two categories, I remember that it typically came from some of the more politically-committed full-timers, who at times expressed dissatisfaction that Partial-Load faculty were less inclined to vote in favour of a strike (since striking isn’t necessarily to the benefit of one who has no guarantee of teaching 15 weeks in the future) .

But judging from the e-mails that I’ve occasionally fielded as a Local President, and the occasional hallway conversation, it appears that more of the discontent is now coming from Partial-Load faculty, who increasingly question whether the current composition of the union can ensure that the interests of contract faculty can be adequately represented if yoked to the interests of Full-Time faculty.

It’s an interesting question, both on the level of principle and practice. I hadn’t really planned to open this particular can of worms, but I think that it’s an issue that’s probably best worked out in a respectful, mediated forum like this one, so . . .

* * *

We’ll devote today’s post to two opinions—both providing very different responses to yesterday’s reader contributions, which suggest that Seneca’s jettisoning of Partial-Load faculty positions is rooted in the new Collective Agreement and, more fundamentally, in the dynamics of bargaining that (according to at least one opinion yesterday) are rooted in the mixed FT/PL composition of the bargaining unit.

Our first contributor argues that the selfishness of Full-Time faculty ensures that contract faculty will be treated as . . . fungible.

You nail the elephant in the room munchin’ up the munch. I’m F/T but would be happy with 60K a year if EVERYONE made 60K, janitors, deans, P/T and F/T. Fat chance. Too many faculty think they get their salary because they are “special”–many feel hard done by if they don’t get a raise. When a raise is dangled, they grab it, to hell with other issues. The F/T bourgoisie’s interest ain’t that of the P/T precariat. But the incremental acceptance of crappier CA’s will get us all. The writing is on the digital wall: Pearson is applying to be a degree granting institution (surprise); we have given up the cap on sections… it’s going to be e-learning efficiencies innovating our jobs away. If it happens slowly, it’ll stay the selfish status quo. If done too quickly, some might fight back. We’re too busy now buying mutual funds, thinking we have earned and deserve the sunshine. Not much solidarity in that.

Speaking personally, I don’t think that I get my salary because I’m “special”; I think I get it because I’m a qualified expert and award-winning teacher who spent over 10 years as a full-time postsecondary student, accumulating student debt and opportunity costs, in order to obtain a credential that my current position requires. And I can’t speak much to mutual fund investments, seeing as my pre-tax annual salary is currently one-tenth of the average price of a detached house in the city in which I work.

I guess my question would be: Whose interests are best served by the notion of a “zero sum” economy – by the notion that gains to Full-Time faculty must necessarily come at the cost of contract faculty? I’m accustomed to that sort of rhetoric from politicians preaching austerity or “fiscal responsibility”; I’m less accustomed to it from people who bemoan a lack of solidarity.

Our second letter offers a different opinion, identifying Seneca’s decimation of Partial-Load positions as originating less in a Collective Agreement that was voted on by the membership, and more in legislation that was not.

It is depressing to read this. Especially when one considers that even if *all* of the union’s demands going into bargaining had been accepted, as the last three readers hint at, that would not have completely stopped Seneca management from doing what they are doing.

It is all thanks to the highly flawed Colleges Collective Bargaining Act (CCBA) 2008. All of the tools are in the hands of management. Save for one tool. And that’s the ability to organize part-time and sessional faculty. It is not a perfect tool. It is not perfect because even if you were to “blow up” the union and start with a clean sheet of paper as the last reader suggests, you’d still have two separate and distinct bargaining units thanks to the CCBA. Save for a political miracle, I can’t see the CCBA being fixed anytime soon.

That leads to the only possible way out of this funk: have both faculty bargaining units represented by a union and working closely together.

As I said, it’s the only tool we have. It’s amazing what you can do with just one tool though. If you were to take away all of my tools and leave me with just a hammer, it is still a hammer. The old adage may be true that if all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail! But that’s OK, you can still build plenty of things with just a hammer and nails.

It’s about time we got that hammer.

So, this leaves us with a couple of questions:  Should we understand gains to Full-Time faculty as coming at the expense (or elimination) of Partial-Load faculty?  Just how inexpensive would Partial-Load faculty need to be, in order to convince Seneca management not to replace them with non-Unionized Part-Time faculty?  And who benefits by the fact that such are the questions that we are asking in Ontario, in 2014?

As ever, feel free to respond either to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.

Reader’s Reactions to Stifled Speech at Seneca

So, I’ve had the pleasure of receiving several responses to yesterday’s post about my curious challenges in communicating with students at my college.  I’ll devote today’s post to them.

Let me start by saying that I don’t agree with all the sentiments below — some I disagree with rather strenuously, but since the topic of the day would concern free speech, I’m not in the mood to play censor. Perhaps events in upcoming weeks (or your own responses) might let me revisit some of these ideas, and offer alternative perspectives.

A union Local officer in a Southeast Ontario college wrote:

I read your blog on twitter this morning and I thought I was reading something from another planet!  I can’t believe how your local has been treated.

Apparently the story made the rounds, because another prof from the same college wrote, simply:

Sounds like fascism.

Another professor from the same region discerned a guilty conscience in Seneca management’s handling of its elimination of hundreds of Partial-Load positions:

You can see that it is unethical because it does not pass the “after morning test”. If the head of Seneca college thinks this new model is such a breakthrough in education then why is he not shouting it from the roof tops, asking a city newspaper to extol the virtues of the new model? If the idea is so great it could stand on its own merits. It also fails another test – “in the other guy’s/gal’s shoes” – if the government was to come in and cut the President’s wage in half would he still think its such a great idea and would best serve education for students. One example of poorer education is already happening. As wages are cut teachers are motivated to spend less time giving valuable, quality feedback and instead race through the marking to get done so they can go and work their second job. I would like to know how much money was spent on the people and the vehicle that was following you around all day.

Three other readers connected Seneca management’s behaviour to our new Collective Agreement.

The first — from the GTA — presents the point with an impressive punctuation-to-word ratio:

My question is WHY did 61% vote in favour!!!!  Something stinks!!!!

The second, from Southwest Ontario, sets things out in stark terms:

Welcome to tomorrow, faculty who voted to accept a collective agreement that suspended the right to grieve the article pertaining to hiring full time positions. And those that DIDN’T vote, may they be de-skilled by e-learning, canned, and reduced to security jobs policing the few (finally active) union members. Sigh. Feeling apocalyptic this morning. But thank you for your work and communicatin’….

And if the prospect of future employment as security guards wasn’t dismal enough, another contributor introduces a theory that the interests of full-time and partial-load faculty are incompatible:

Metaphorically speaking (in case security is monitoring this), rage is what I feel inside. An ugly beast, ready to tear into whatever lay before me, ceasing only when the opposition has choked on its last gasping breath. And it sickens me … but he’s who takes care of me when reason and logic fail.

Thankfully, however, my faith in reason is strong.

The problem you have laid out if two-fold … and the biggest “fold” is neglected to be analyzed. It is the union that binds its contract members in impotence.

As I see it, as long as management keeps “the haves” (the full timers) happy, and as long as these voting members occupy a significant portion if not the majority of the contract votes (partly due to the inopportune times PL Faculty are asked to vote), the PL community of “have-nots” will never have a voice.

Furthermore, if management can arbitrarily choose who is represented by the union through the distribution of too few of too many hours, then how can the union effectively represent our needs? They can’t … and there is not a damn thing they can do about it (legally) … especially given that we PLers will never have enough voting clout to vote down a contract that does not rectify this oversight.

I strongly believe we need to push a vote of no-confidence in the ability of our union to represent us, and then reform in a manner which will include all manner of non-permanent employees. We could then push as a solid front, independent of the complacent, over-fed bourgeoisie, and have our own needs met.

Or better yet … rather than create more opposition through having to fight against the FTers and management … we could all just agree that our capitalistic society is a mistake. We could admit that the environment of limitless economic growth that cultivated bulging six-figure salaries does not exist, and we could all agree to accept sliding scale pay cuts for any future FT hires. Perhaps have the starting range enter at $45K/yr and the top end at $75K/yr. This way we could gradually weed out the mistakes of those who came before us, create a more sustainable system of compensation, and free up budget room so that management has incentive to treat non-permanent faculty better.

If this upsets anyone … don’t worry too much. My vote does not even count. I have 14 teaching hours this semester.

 

Picket, and it Won’t Ever Heal…

So, last Wednesday I had the pleasure of trying to provide information to students at Seneca College’s campus on York University.  I encourage you to catch the account from members of CUPE 3903 — here’s my own take.

Necessary background: Seneca College senior management is implementing a “staffing model” change that would see up to hundreds of unionized “partial-load” contract faculty positions converted into non-Unionized “part-time” or “sessional” contract faculty positions. For those contract faculty, it means that they’ll head home over Christmas break in December, knowing that if they wish to return to teaching at Seneca in January, they can do so only on the condition that they accept fewer hours, less job security, a lower hourly wage, no union representation, and (in an especially remarkable labour relations coup) the evaporation of all the sick days that they had accumulated over their years of service to Seneca College.

This is undoubtedly best understood as an example of Seneca President David Agnew’s stated “great respect for the vital work” that contract faculty do.

For Seneca College students, this represents a clear threat to the quality of their educational experience. Their part-time faculty would have fewer hours, and would therefore need to work additional jobs to make ends meet. Those other jobs would likely mean that these profs would likely be less available on campus before or after class, and may have less time to respond to student e-mails. Moreover, their reduced classes would likely mean that they would be on campus for fewer days out of the week.

So, after having had a chance to communicate this to my members and the media, it was certainly time for us to let the students know what was happening to the staffing of their own classes, come January.

So . . . talk to students on campus, right? Simple enough?

Not quite.

Seneca management denied the Union’s request to provide information in “cafeterias and other non-teaching areas of the campuses where students congregate, for the purpose of informing students and other members of the Seneca community of imminent staffing changes at Seneca, and to solicit opinions of such”. After all, such revolutionary activities as handing out leaflets in a cafeteria could, in the words of management, “disrupt students as well as the College’s operations”.

I am not making this up.

So, given this refusal, the task was to distribute information on public property near the campuses. This was particularly interesting at York University, where Seneca has set up shop in two buildings that are located inside York University’s Keele campus.

What follows is a rough chronology of the day’s events. The events are all true; the times given may be imprecise:

8:00: The assembled union members arrived (accompanied by support from OPSEU Local 613 and CUPE 3903). We were immediately monitored closely by a security guard dressed in black, who insisted that we “stay off Seneca property”. Somewhat awkwardly, he demonstrated an ignorance of precisely where Seneca property began and ended in the outdoors of a York University campus. To “clarify” the matter, he wandered off on occasion, speaking on a radio to his “manager”, and failed to return with concrete information.

8:10: It didn’t take long for us to identify the black SUV with tinted windows, in the parking lot across the street. It had a videocamera set up on the dash, and proceeded to videotape us throughout the entire day. According to eyewitness reports, the security guard inside the SUV was wearing sunglasses, which is perfectly normal behavior for somebody sitting in a vehicle with tinted windows on a cloudy day. The videotaping, of course, would have absolutely nothing to do with any attempt on management’s part to intimidate contract faculty from demonstrating, for fear of losing future employment.

9:30: An executive member of a student group came outside to talk with us, offering to take some of our leaflets, to distribute to students.

10:30: The same student group executive member returned outside, saying that he had heard that a new Seneca College policy had been created that day, banning student groups from distributing flyers. Such ridiculous rumours are, of course, perfectly normal in institutions of higher learning.

11:45: I went inside the campus to get some tea, and ended up in conversation with two colleagues who stopped me in the hallway, asking how the campaign is going. When I showed them copies of the flyers that I’d been distributing to students, I was immediately apprehended by a new security guard, who had been following me. When the security guard told me that I was forbidden from distributing materials to students on campus, I pointed out that I was distributing materials to my constituent members, not students.  The security guard then announced that he had to follow me until I left the building, which is perfectly normal behavior for an school administration that is not at all paranoid.

1:45: Again outside handing leaflets to students, one student declined a leaflet, mentioning that she had heard that it was “illegal” for students to carry Union flyers into campus buildings. It is, after all, perfectly normal for students of a postsecondary institution to be afraid of being arrested for carrying a leaflet on school property.

Now, I’m quite confident that the silly rumours about student groups not being able to communicate with other students, or about students facing prosecution for carrying or distributing union literature about their own learning conditions are just that: silly rumours.

But I am struck how an administration’s effort to crack down on free speech on campus – whether through regulation, surveillance, or intimidation – ends up leading immediately and almost inevitably to such rumours. The day started with union members being told that they couldn’t hand leaflets on school property; it ended with at least one student believing that she could be punished for holding the wrong piece of paper on campus.

And I do wonder about the effects of that on her education. Particularly on how she understands her relationship to her school differently than she did the day before.

And I wonder how the day’s events square with Seneca College’s educational mission – particularly the aspects of the Academic Plan that assert the school’s mission of teaching students such core literacies as “communication”, “information literacy”, “creative thinking”, “social responsibility”, “inquiry and analysis”, and “critical thinking”.

And at the end of that day—a day of being videotaped and followed—I came to some conclusions, not about Seneca College but about the nature of authoritarian governance.  I concluded that authoritarianism is borne not of strength but of insecurity. And I concluded that insecurity is the inevitable attitude for rulers who aspire to irresponsible power: those who wish to avoid the ethical obligation to respond to criticism. Such rulers, I assume, must find themselves unwilling or unable to candidly defend their choices to those they affect, and therefore fear those choices being scrutinized and discussed in the light of day, in the spirit of “social responsibility”, “inquiry and analysis”, and “critical thinking”.

And I wonder whether that fear would be perfectly normal, if they themselves believed that their actions were morally defensible?