A Southern Ontario Reader Writes…

Firstly, let me thank everybody who has subscribed to the blog recently.  I appreciate it.

Secondly, let me thank everybody who has taken the trouble to leave a comment or to e-mail me at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.  Your contributions expand this blog’s potential as a forum rather than a monologue.  As a reminder, all comments are moderated and will remain anonymous.

With that said, let me turn the spotlight over to a letter that I received last week from a first-time contributor from Southern Ontario…

Keep up the good work with your blogs!

I am a 30+ veteran of the college classroom in [Southern Ontario]. I find it interesting that the [support] staff union has negotiated a full four year contract in addition to the one year already in the bag. Hence they have a type of security until 2022! Since when were they supposed to be bargaining? I am not sure but I think they got the same deal as the [Ontario Public Sector division of OPSEU].  

OPSEU is just rolling over existing contracts and somehow saying this is a victory. Who the heck is doing the work and is Smokey really aware of his team? In reading the small print if, by some miracle, the faculty union negotiates better extended health care coverage the staff will get it too. Ya, right.

Who knows what machinations are going on and the positioning of both this management team as well as our own faculty team? It really is scary how little experience in the classroom the management team has. I wonder if management will force us to vote on a contract via provisions of the CCBA? Could the offer mirror what the staff union evidently may settle for? Maybe the employer team really thinks everything is just wonderful in the college system and no substantive changes need to be made. The system may be breaking down, but at least it won’t completely break down on their watch. And in the meantime look at all the lovely new buildings going up. Too bad there are not enough funds to run things – better hire more managers with ever escalating salaries.

Will the union be able to get around this and eke out a strike mandate? It seems our only tool is the hammer of a strike. How incredibly primitive in 2017. I have walked the picket and it sucks.

That’s it.

Yours, anon

That’s it?  Well, there’s quite a lot there — I’ll pick and choose what to respond to.

Firstly, thanks for the letter.  I’m sure that it will inspire different reactions in those who read it, and I invite them all to contribute.

First and foremost: Yes, the CAAT-S (= support staff) Union’s Divisional Executive has negotiated a four-year “extension” to their Collective Agreement.  And yes, that’s rather irregular, particularly given that, as this letter points out, the CAAT-S Collective Agreement was set to expire in 2018 — a year after our own.  Also unusual is that, as a consequence, the offer has been drafted and proposed for ratification prior to the election of a bargaining team or any Local demand-setting process.

[Curiously, I note that the support deal is advertised as a 7.75% increase in salary over four years, in comparison with the proclaimed 7.5% increase offered to faculty.  This may become relevant in a couple of paragraphs.]

As for the reason why the offer was made, and why it was accepted by the CAAT-S “negotiators”, people will no doubt have differences of opinion: An optimist might say that the team was fortunate to find an Ontario government in a deal-making mood, which could provide an offer that was at least as good as they might hope to obtain through traditional bargaining.  A pessimist might echo your concerns about OPSEU’s receptivity to offers that bypass the traditional means by which rank-and-file members participate in bargaining, and might suggest that the members are being encouraged to take deals prematurely, prior to a serious effort at negotiating improvements.

But optimist or pessimist, I note one thing: OPSEU can’t impose a deal on members — in the end, it’s up to the members to vote on whether they wish to ratify it or not.  If the membership feels that they can do better, they’ll have that chance.  Conversely, if the membership doesn’t feel motivated to press needs that aren’t represented in the management’s offer, then maybe that impacts the likelihood of negotiating improvements in those areas, at a bargaining table.

You see, if a employer doesn’t believe that unionized employees truly care about the issues introduced at the bargaining table, then it would, presumably, have little motivation to make meaningful compromises.  If, on the other hand, unionized employees are able to communicate that they stand behind their bargaining team and insist upon their own demands, then the bargaining table can in fact become a place where necessary changes can be successfully negotiated without a strike — changes that include improvements to the job security and equal treatment of precarious workers, as well as protections for the full-time complement of the bargaining unit.

Will the union be able to get around this and eke out a strike mandate? It seems our only tool is the hammer of a strike. How incredibly primitive in 2017. I have walked the picket and it sucks.

I agree that the hammer of a strike is indeed primitive.  Far preferable would be for both sides to engage in an honest discussion of the current strengths and weaknesses of our college system, and understand what changes are needed to workload, complement, and governance, in order to provide a stronger footing for the colleges to face the next 50 years.

But — based only on both sides’ public statements, and particularly on the Employer’s current offer  — I see no appetite for any such discussion on the Employer’s side right now.

I wonder if management will force us to vote on a contract via provisions of the CCBA?

Well, if the conclusions that I arrived at in my last post are valid, they would do that if it was the best remaining alternative to actually negotiating the Union’s primary demands at the bargaining table.

But I suspect that any offer on which the Employer forced a vote wouldn’t look precisely like the current offer.  [Hint: Remember that missing 0.25% that I mentioned earlier?]

Maybe the employer team really thinks everything is just wonderful in the college system and no substantive changes need to be made. The system may be breaking down, but at least it won’t completely break down on their watch.

Well, I won’t presume to read management’s mind about the state of the College system, but the Employer’s offer would seem to make clear that it wishes to see no substantive changes in our working conditions (and especially in our working relationship) for the next four years.

In other words, the status quo is working quite well for them, and their curious description of their offer as an “extension” of the current Collective Agreement — indicates the degree to which that offer is intended to be a status quo offer.

My question is: Is the status quo working quite well for our students?  For their employers?  For Ontario’s workforce and society?  No doubt we’ll have weeks to contemplate the answer to that one, but feel free to chime in with your thoughts, at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.

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