Strike Vote: Reactions (IV)

A professor from the North writes.
I was trying to figure out a typographic font to denote the sarcastic parts, but I limited myself to editing the punctuation for clarity.
The author points out that underlying the Employer’s position is the sense that the College system is perfect the way it is, and needs no change.  Now, that’s not a terribly surprising position, since the system as it stands — with 82% of all teaching staff on precarious contracts; with qualified faculty having no power to determine whether students should be graded via individual exams or group projects — is almost entirely the product of management decisions.  Decisions that have been handed to management with our blessing, though successive Collective Agreements.
Successive Collective Agreements, not legislation.  It is the Collective Agreement, not legislation, that determines that faculty work only “under the direction of the senior academic officer of the College or designate”.  It is the Collective Agreement, not legislation, that excludes faculty from decision-making.  (Legislation excludes faculty from academic decision-making no more than it excludes senior managers.  To illustrate, please do a quick Ctrl-F search, to consider how the decision-making authority conferred to an Academic Vice-President by the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act, 2002) is greater than the decision-making authority granted to faculty.
But I digress.  On to our contributor of the day:
Thanks for the blogging.
 
I do not take strikes lightly having been part of all three in the college system. I thought you put it well in your [recent post] about the middle finger the Employer gave us with the insult of imposing a contract on us back in 2009. I lost my respect for them on that day.
 
I think that during this round of negotiations you also correctly noted that the Union has finally realized the impact of the CCBA and asked for a mandate before the end of the CA. This is one of the few tools it has and I am glad they did this. I am really mystified why the employer refuses to bargain. I guess they really think everything in the college system is just peachy. No need to address online learning. No need to look at counselor workloads. Forget librarians – who needs them anyway in education. Academic freedom – not needed. Addressing the needs of PL faculty – why bother – short term contracts are just fine. I guess the mini deans don’t mind spending endless hours managing the ever revolving door of the precariat. I can tell you from direct experience this was not always so. Imagine how much easier their work would be with a stable workforce. Faculty should just accept the modest increases in salary they are being offered – forget the years when we took 0% (the Staff never did this). Bargain? No way – after all, every other public sector union accepted contract extensions — why don’t we? After all, the college system is a fine- tuned machine. Nothing to see here – move along now.
 
Sigh. We may lose. I know that. But I am proud that at least we are trying. We need to stand up for important issues. The employer has one final tool at their disposal. They can bring the contract directly to us under the terms of the CCBA. What an interesting play that would be. They thought the union should have done this. I pray there is no strike. It is not good for anyone, least of all our students. None of us including Presidents with their fancy offices would have a job without students. Students are the party that suffers the most. I hope the employer goes back and actually bargains. Sonia, if you are reading this, please go and bargain. Academic freedom won’t cost you a dime and may actually give some meaning to college degrees and university partnerships.
 
Yours, 
anon
Yup — I think that I’ve suggested earlier that the Employer will negotiate significant issues only when it has no other choice, and our contributor’s last paragraph does introduce at least one other choice.  I’ll try to look into this possibility later in the week.
In the meantime, please feel free to contribute (anonymously)  either via the Comment button below, or by e-mailing ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.
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Strike Vote: Reactions (I)

Here are some of my own thoughts in reaction to yesterday’s Strike Authorization Vote, in which 68% of voters gave the CAAT-A bargaining team a mandate to call a strike if management continues its steadfast refusal to negotiate the demands that have been presented by faculty.

In no particular order:

  • I have to assume that the result of the vote is a surprise to the College Employer Council.  Presumably, the Council’s rhetoric of “the Union should let the membership vote on our offer” was motivated by an opinion that management’s offer was sufficient for a majority of the membership, despite the complete lack of anything addressing staffing issues, workload issues, issues affecting counsellors, issues affecting librarians, issues affecting Partial-Load job security, and issues related to equal pay for equal work for Partial-Load faculty.  The Council’s August 16 Academic Bargaining Update reads, “it is expected that the offer will provide the foundation for an early settlement.”  I have no reason to believe that the Council was lying about that expectation, and the strike vote outcome indicates that those expectations and reality were considerably out of line.
  • The most recent strike vote, in January 2010, saw 57% of faculty voting yes, and that was after management had unilaterally imposed Terms and Conditions of employment, in an action that more or less gave the entire bargaining process the middle finger.  Thursday’s vote saw 10% more support for a strike mandate, in a less provocative context, suggesting a significant change in the opinions of the Union membership within the last seven years — one that I suspect the Employer is ill-equipped to address.
  • The primary issue around the 2010 strike vote was workload; the major issues in this round of bargaining are far more fundamental and structural.  The notion that Ontario’s public College system is in a state of fundamental crisis is clearly gaining more traction among faculty than in previous rounds.
  • Further evidence of an increased level of activism among the Union rank-and-file is the fact that this is the first time ever, I believe, that a strike mandate has been given prior to the expiry of the Collective Agreement.  By way of comparison, 2010’s strike mandate was given over four months after the expiry of the Collective Agreement, and some weeks after Terms & Conditions had been unilaterally imposed by the Employer.  It’s not simply that the current Union bargaining team is more proactive than previous ones (although a greater understanding of the practical impact of the changes to bargaining effected by 2008 legislation may be at work); also at work seems to be a dramatically reduced confidence on the part of the Union membership that the Employer will bargain constructively prior to the expiry of the Collective Agreement, if no strike mandate is in place.
  • Further to that last point, the Employer’s communications throughout the last six weeks has basically stated, “We stopped negotiating on August 1st when we presented our monetary offer.  It doesn’t matter which way you vote; we refuse to consider negotiating the Union’s top demands.”  It’s hard to imagine a position that could have better proven the Union bargaining team’s claim that a strike mandate was required to compel the Employer’s team to start an actual process of negotiations.

Next up, some responses and some from contributors (feel free to add yours, at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com).

 

Strike Vote: 68% Yes

For the moment, I’ll stick to reprinting OPSEU’s press release — I’ll try to follow up later with some thoughts.  Feel free to pre-empt my ramblings by e-mailing ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com or clicking “Leave a Comment”, below (all comments are moderated to ensure anonymity).

College Faculty Strike Vote Set Table for Talks

Toronto – The bargaining team for faculty at Ontario’s 24 public colleges has received a strike mandate from its members, setting the table for collective bargaining that is scheduled to resume next week.

Sixty-eight per cent of college faculty represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) entrusted their elected team with the ability to call a strike if the College Employer Council refuses to budge on key issues.

“College faculty from across the province debated and voted on 16 proposals to improve the quality and fairness of the college system in Ontario,” said union bargaining team chair JP Hornick. “Since bargaining started 10 weeks ago, management has ignored every single one of them.

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

The collective agreement for 12,000 professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians expires on September 30, 2017. No strike or lockout deadline has been set.

Key issues in the talks include the role of faculty in academic decision-making and fair treatment for contract faculty.

Eighty-one per cent of college teaching is done by contract faculty, all of whom have no job security and are paid significantly less than the negotiated rates for full-time permanent faculty. 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.

“With Bill 148 on the horizon, college management simply cannot ignore the rights of contract faculty,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “Equal pay for equal work is a fundamental feature of the new bargaining landscape, and it will be a key feature in any settlement.

“College faculty have the full support of their union in getting a fair collective agreement that addresses their issues,” he added. “And we have $72 million in the strike fund to back that up.”

Back-to-School (2017 Edition)

Okay, so — first day back…  Did you have fun?  Were the other profs nice to you?  Did you have lunch with anyone nice?

And your class sizes — let’s talk about those for a moment, shall we?  How were they?  Manageable?  Appropriate for an individualized student-centred learning experience?  Seriously — same as usual, better or worse?  Larger or smaller than 10 years ago?  And if larger, what steps have you taken (or been forced to take, depending upon the evaluations factors on your SWF if you’re full-time) to deal with the numbers?  Where have been able to adjust to deliver the same quality as before, or have there been elements where you have simply been unable to deliver the same quality?

Share your experiences anonymously at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com, if you’re so inclined.  Remember that we may be a LONG way from having ANY meaningful input on our class sizes, but the College Employer Council has made it abundantly clear that the long road towards that influence begins (but does not, I expect, end) with a strike authorization in the upcoming vote.  After all, the Employer has clearly stated that there are only two paths of negotiation: Either a) accept a status quo that leaves issues of academic freedom, college governance, and workload unaddressed in exchange for pay below the projected rate of inflation over the next four years, or b) authorize a strike.

Hey — if nothing else, I appreciate the clarity.

Anyway, yesterday’s post featured a new contributor speaking about the degree to which Ontario College professors have lost control of their profession.

That post elicited the following response from our most dedicated contributor:

While I share the sentiments and empathize with the passion of the writer of “Controlling Our Own Profession,” I think that the interests of accuracy can best be served if we do not mythologize the past. College teachers (and educators from pre-school to post-doc supervisors) have never been “professionals” in the sense that we controlled ingress, internal discipline, fee schedules and egress from our occupation. Accountants, architects, dentists, doctors and lawyers may share in such privileges; we do not and have not.

So, it is a mistake to claim that “management” has “managed to infiltrate our profession.” Going back to the beginning – before the Union – management had unrestrained powers and, of course, management retains virtually unfettered powers today.

This is not to deny the claim that we ought to have such powers. Nor is it to speak against making every effort to gain them. It is only to say that this would be moving into wholly new ground and any such movement would be something that not only management, but the Government of Ontario – regardless of party – would fight (almost) to the death to prevent.

If, however, we entertain aspirations of becoming a profession at some point (or even achieving the kind of co-management that the Union is endorsing), then we had better understand what we’re up against. As Canada’s most beloved philosopher once intoned: “Moral outrage is too precious a commodity to be spent in the service of anything but reality.” (Varsity Arena, October, 1965)

And while I’m opening up the mailbag, permit me to add the following reply from the same contributor to this post — my original reply to the Employer’s “Two Paths: Strike or Settlement” publication.  I notice that he does provide a comparison of class sizes “then and now”:

When I came aboard the Good Ship CAAT in August, 1969, there were no contract faculty at my college. Every one of us “Teaching Masters” (we weren’t called “professors” at the time) was full-time. True, individuals might occasionally ask to be put temporarily on a reduced load for any number of personal reasons (and were paid a proportionately reduced salary during that period), but cases of that sort were few and always initiated by the faculty member.

Now, in an era when the number of administrators/managers has ballooned by 50% and more, we are told that paying for full-time employees (both faculty and support staff) is no longer possible. The employer insists that up to 80% of the teaching must be done by overworked, underpaid and systematically intimidated precarious faculty who dare not complain lest they be “terminated without cause.”

How come? Tuition fees are way up, and salaries have barely kept pace with inflation over the past 50 years. Is the alleged fiscal crisis of the colleges to be blamed on hideously incompetent management? Or is something else going on.

One place to look might be the funding strategies adopted by the provincial governments (over decades and by all political parties). The success of the colleges and the “productivity” of professors are obvious. In my department, for example, average class sizes have more than doubled from 15 to about 35, and we now teach almost twice as many classes as we did “in the olden days” – 14 over three semesters rather than 8 over two. So, how come we never seem to benefit from “economies of scale”?

It seems plain either that the colleges are being short-changed or that the colleges are being mismanaged (or maybe both). In any case, the so-called “stalemate” is about more than employee demands and employer recalcitrance. Ultimately, the problem is political.

Voting overwhelmingly to give the Bargaining Team a strike mandate is the only way to show that we are serious about change in the way the colleges work is the first step to solving that political problem. Giving thought to who best represents workers’ rights and education and who deserves another kind of vote when the next provincial election come up less than a year from now is another.

Unlike an increasing number of managers, I may not have an MBA from some digital diploma mill far, far away … but I know this much: this ain’t no way to run a railway, nor an Ontario college system.

 

 

 

Labour Day Edition

The following is from a new contributor whom I’m delighted to welcome to the discussion.  I’m reprinting this submission in the interests of fostering a broad conversation about the factors impacting Ontario College education, but cannot attest to the accuracy of any claims therein.

Controlling Our Own Profession

The recent Academic Bargaining Update provided by the College [Employer] Council illustrates why it is necessary for faculty to finally control their own profession.

The Council frames the dilemma falsely as a choice between strike or settlement while ignoring the third option, which is an overhaul of the college system for the sake of justice; for the sake of better education for our students and our communities.

The Union proposals do focus on changing the structure of Colleges. This change is long overdue. Colleges are places where training, education and mentorship are provided. They are not institutions where incompetent managers should be allowed to dictate a vicious financial policy of austerity that only furthers the financial health of its elite while gutting the very people who provide education and training to students.

The current College system, which is overburdened with management, is no longer sustainable. Take the example of the Georgian College President who was awarded a $200,000 increase in salary this year while her College is millions of dollars in debt. Her response has been to cut faculty while promoting the same managers whose incompetence lead to the College’s financial difficulties. These examples can be multiplied across the College system.

If Legislation makes the College Board of Governors responsible for the governance of the College, it is time to change the legislation. It is clear that the legislation is unjust. The College Board of Governors should consist of faculty and not managers who fail to even have terminal degrees in their field and virtually no experience being educators. The University model where chairs are chosen among faculty professors and where accountants do the accounting is one that should be considered as a viable alternative to the current unjust method of “governance.”

If Collective Bargaining addresses the terms and conditions of employment then it is clear that the terms and conditions of employment need to be changed so that educators control the fruits of their labours. Administrators should be serving Professors in their efforts to educate students. The current inversion that has been in place for over fifty years is medieval in scope and unjust in practice.

The Council is upset that “the union demands control over academic delivery.” Professors are best at knowing what students require. The current system to use an analogy is like a butcher telling a brain surgeon how to perform surgery. This would not be tolerated in any hospital, yet it is exactly what management is doing in the College system. In fact it is even worse than the analogy because management has no clue of what is required to deliver proper education and yet they have managed to infiltrate our profession. Management has no business telling professors how to teach. They have no business being in an educational institution when they should be elsewhere such as the financial sector. Education is not fast food. Students are not clients. Professors are not frying up burgers in the marketplace.

How is it that professors have allowed their own house to be taken over by bureaucratic incompetence? Management through a number of clauses have given themselves the power to destroy lives and careers while relying on a part time work force that receives a course here and a course there. Management stuffs their pockets with government funds while telling us that there is no more money for full time hires.

The problem with the College system is the over-bloated and incompetent bureaucracy that needs to be transformed so that professors can once again control their own profession for the sake of their students and the communities in which they live and work.

If nothing else, this letter did inspire me to dig up my copy of the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act, 2002, to find out precisely what powers are given to Boards of Governors, and whether the Council is correct that the existence of Boards of Governors with duties prescribed by law somehow legislatively renders it impossible for me to determine, for example, whether students should be graded individually or through group assignments (something that faculty currently have no authority over, and something that the Employer seems to be arguing that current law utterly precludes our ever having authority over).

Anyway, a review of that legislation is indeed thought-provoking, and may become the topic of a future post.

Please submit your thoughts, either in response to today’s submission or on another issue, to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.

Why Not an Offer Vote?

Right.  So, the College Employer Council (i.e., “College Management”) bargaining team presented a “comprehensive offer of settlement to extend the existing collective agreement” to the OPSEU CAAT-A (i.e., “College Faculty” bargaining team) on August 1, and then, having not received a response to a proposed four-year deal within a week, decided to present the offer directly to faculty, provincewide.

You can find both the text of the offer (August 1) and the summarizing “Academic Bargaining Update” (August 8) linked to the right-hand column.

I hope to talk about the offer soon — to try to crunch the numbers about what the proposed salary increases really amount to, and to try to put them in some context, as well as to try to figure out the difference between “extend[ing] the existing collective agreement” vs. negotiating a new Collective Agreement.  (Particularly when your proposal contains changes to about six different articles or letters of understanding, no less).

[Aside: So clearly I’m missing something, but my reading of Part III, Section 8 (2) of the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act, 2008 suggests that a Collective Agreement can only be extended “for a period of less than one year”, not the four-year period proposed in the Employer’s “Extension Agreement”.  Can one of you legal types help me to square the Employer’s proposal with, er, existing legislation?  Operators are standing by at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.]

But regardless of the title affixed to management’s proposal or the contents therein, I just wanted to focus for now on one little section of the College Employer Council’s Academic Bargaining Update, published today.  It reads:

sanctimony

Happily, everything old is recyclable again, so I’m happy to reuse a portion of a post that I wrote on January 28, 2010, as follows…

♠                    ♠                    ♠

In short, the colleges have put forth an offer that they feel is [. . .] satisfactory to the faculty, and they wish faculty to vote on it, directly.  I know of an excellent way for the colleges to ensure that such a vote occurs:

They can conduct the vote themselves.  Just like the recent legislation gave them the right to do.

Yup, the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act, 2008, says,

The Council may, no earlier than 15 days before the expiry of a collective agreement, make a request in writing to the Ontario Labour Relations Board that a vote of the employees be taken to accept or reject the offer of the Council last received by the employee organization in respect of all matters remaining in dispute between the parties to the collective agreement.

Only one [such] request may be made. . . .

 

♠                    ♠                    ♠

Of course, if the Employer could somehow persuade OPSEU to hold a vote on their offer (instead of, you know, the Employer holding a vote on their own offer), then it’s the people from the College faculty Locals who get to devote the hundreds of labour hours needed provincewide to notify the membership, hold pre-vote meetings, organize advanced polling, staff the polling booths, and count the ballots.

That would be a ridiculous amount of work for the Union to put in, to facilitate a vote on a contract that they don’t even want.

Best of all, if that offer were rejected by the membership, the Employer could get to “urge” OPSEU to hold a vote on their next offer (and the next, and the next).

My reading of the CCBA (specifically, Part IV, Section 17 [2]) indicates that the Union holds a vote for an offer/settlement that it supports; conversely the Employer has the right to force a vote on the offer that it wants faculty to vote on.

Let’s just review that language for a moment: “The Council may, no earlier than 15 days before the expiry of a collective agreement, make a request in writing to the Ontario Labour Relations Board that a vote of the employees be taken” (emphasis added).  According to legislation, the College Employer Council’s requests for votes on offers are supposed to be directed to the Ontario Labour Relations Board, not to the Union.

So what do we have here, in the end?  Well, it’s kind of summed up neatly in the FAQ section of Employer Council’s Academic Bargaining Update, which reads in part:

KindofSad.jpg

In short, the Employer’s bargaining position is that OPSEU should not hold the vote that it intends to hold, but should instead hold the vote that the Employer wants it to hold: A vote on a four-year “settlement” that fails to incorporate any significant faculty demands.

Well, I suppose that’s one way to do things, and hey — it probably takes a lot less energy than, you know. . .  actually bargaining.

[Lastly, I’m struck that this offer states on the front page that it will be withdrawn on August 24.  Given that it’s being distributed in public on August 8, has the Employer given any indication of when, specifically it “urges” for this vote to take place?  Before or after the offer’s withdrawal date?  Enquiring minds want to know.]

Strike Vote Requested

Well, the College Faculty bargaining team has called for the Ontario Labour Relations Board to hold a strike authorization vote, as indicated in this press release (and this article).

To my knowledge, a successful strike authorization vote would permit this bargaining team to be first CAAT-A bargaining team ever to be supported by a strike mandate prior to the expiry of the existing Collective Agreement.

What that would mean (and what I expect is part of the team’s strategy) is that, if a successful strike vote were to be held in mid-September, then the last few scheduled dates of bargaining between the two teams could be more productive, given that management would know that a strike could be imminent if no settlement were reached.

(Obviously, an unsuccessful strike vote would have the opposite effect, which leads to the general conclusion that management has little reason to make any significant compromise in negotiating, until the Union membership gives their team a strike authorization mandate.  It’s for this reason that I typically tell members that — until a successful strike mandate has been obtained — our “bargaining demands” are simply “bargaining requests”.)

So, judging from the press releases and publications, it seems that the Faculty bargaining team is driving hard to compel a meaningful engagement at the bargaining table concerning some of the major non-monetary demands, such as academic freedom and collegial governance (on the one hand), and improved job security for contract faculty, on the other.

If either of you are in the mood to get into the weeds of negotiating, I would encourage you look at the actual contract language put forth by the faculty bargaining team in pp. 5-24 of this document (pages 1-4 include the Union’s contextual positioning statement) — there’s quite a bit there (not least of which a demand for a minimum “Full-Time faculty : Contract faculty” saffing ratio and meaningful seniority for Partial-Load faculty.  (Actually, the proposed changes to Article 26, on Partial-Load Faculty, are fairly extensive and profound, and appear to me to incorporate much of the spirit of the Liberals’ new Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act.  If either of you happen to be contract faculty, I would invite you to send your feedback on them, at ontariocollegeprof.ca — all responses will be kept strictly confidential.)

So, I’m kind of reminded of the last time I bought a car.  It’s in the buyer’s interest to negotiate the price of the car before negotiating the price of a trade-in or applying any discounts; it’s in the seller’s interest to combine all of the factors (sale price, trade-in value, financing, discounts) in one big “deal”.  I realize that’s a somewhat awkward metaphor, but the essential point is that the Faculty bargaining team seems to be pushing hard to compel the Management team to negotiate some of the top faculty demands before moving on to others; management seems to be. . . reluctant to do so, and (in its public statements) somewhat ambiguous about what, specifically, it is attempting to obtain at the negotiating table.

The Faculty bargaining team has already requested (and received) a Ministry conciliator, presumably in order to spur on negotiations; it is requesting a strike authorization vote, presumably in order to get a meaningful show of faculty support behind those efforts.

So, feel free to share (at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com) any thoughts with both of the readers of this blog: Should a strike vote wait until after all scheduled days of bargaining have elapsed and proven fruitless?  How do you think the proposed changes to Article 26 would impact the lives of Partial-Load faculty?  (In particular, would the proposed new Article 26.09A be a change that might impact how Partial-Load might vote in a strike authorization vote?)