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.

2017 Negotiations Messages (#4)

So in my last two posts, I’ve looked at the first “Academic Bargaining Update” from the College Employer Council.  Specifically, my last post started thinking a bit about the relationship between form and content, as the CEC presented its primary bargaining posture (which I very loosely summarize as “College faculty should be grateful that we’ve done as great a job as we have so far, given that the Colleges are going broke”).

So, I’m now wondering if it’s simply bias that’s leading me to be concerned about the lack of developed, nuanced efforts at persuasion in that bulletin.  I recently got called a ‘dinosaur’ for the first time by a colleague (perhaps I should be surprised that it took this long), and maybe it’s simply unreasonable for me to hold anyone to the standard of actually trying to engage with ideas and context and reasoning in the medium of a bargaining newsletter.  (With that said, I do note that pages 7 and 8 of the OPSEU bargaining team’s March 2017 Newsletter contains a “Message from the Chair” that attempts to situate the current needs of the Ontario College system within the context of its history and original mandate, as well as the evolution of a current corporatist managerial culture).

Anyway, on that topic, I wanted to share some welcome feedback I received from our most dedicated correspondent:

A former boss – a Campus Dean to be precise – once told me that if I expected him to read any memo I sent on matters of college policy or procedure, it had better be no more than a single page. Anything that can’t be said in one page isn’t worth saying, he declared.

I foolishly assumed that he was merely displaying a bad case of AADD (Administrator’s Attention Deficit Disorder). I have now read enough “visioning” statements, “mandates,” “core competency” summaries and other glorifications of the next new big thing (purloined from decades-old business magazines and MBA exams) to know that a preference for bullet-points isn’t just a reflection of NRA politics.

I am now convinced that a studied indifference to authentic evidence, an inability to make or understand cogent arguments, and simple failures in common sense are not anomalies in the logic and rhetoric of managerial exposition, but an endemic feature of the current corporate culture.

Any half-way serious analysis of the structure and symbolism of both formal and informal communications from the authorities will immediately reveal that there is no intention to communicate, much less to deliberate, but just to intimidate, distract, obfuscate and misdirect.

And maybe that helps me to articulate my real issue.  I’m not concerned with the CEC’s relying on the language of marketing (“Investing in faculty”!) and techniques of marketing because I think that marketing is inherently evil: I’m concerned because the Employer’s exclusive reliance on marketing indicates that the  Council is currently unwilling to engage in a thoughtful discussion with faculty — with Ontarians — about the current needs facing the College system.

What’s working in our Colleges?  What’s not?  Is the status quo truly sufficient for the needs of Ontario’s economy and society?  How many students are prospering, and how many are merely getting a piece of paper at the end?  Does the College Employer Council believe that it’s actually desirable for over 70% of College faculty to work on one-semester-long contracts?  Desirable for faculty to lack ownership over the materials they create?  Desirable for faculty to lack the authority to decide whether students are evaluated using written work or multiple choice?  And if so, what’s the data behind that belief?

Now, one could certainly argue that there are better forums to have a discussion about how to best ensure that Colleges are able to accomplish their mandate than by trying to hash it out in partisan newsletters in the heat of bargaining.  But here’s the point: that debate doesn’t appear to be occurring in any meaningful, influential way anywhere else, at any other time.  And the fact that the College Employer Council so far appears unwilling to attempt to seriously engage with those issues (or, indeed, with reasoned principles at all) in its newsletters suggests that there is literally no place for such discussion to occur, in the opinion of College management.  It suggests that the College Employer Council appears confident that a serious, influential debate over the needs of an underfunded College system can be replaced with the repeated reassurance that “We have invested in faculty despite a challenging financial environment”.

(In truth, it’s probably premature for me to make that claim without first considering whether the above concerns are contradicted or upheld by the Employer Council’s second newsletter — one that was published on July 10, after three days of bargaining had been completed.  I invite you to weigh in on that issue, at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.)

Bargaining resumes this week.  It would be interesting to know to  what degree the dynamic of the bargaining table reflects the dynamic of messages that have been put forth for public consumption by both sides thus far.

Basking for Clarification…

An author of a previous post clarifies which side she’s on:

Oh my goodness…. I wrote the post that has been titled “dissenting voice.” I was completely unclear/vague in my last line!

I am NOT a dissenting voice […]! I am completely and utterly FOR the strike. Management is wrong. Sweeping away 30 years of collective bargaining is completely wrong. Ending collective bargaining as we know it is completely wrong. Asking us to roll over and “take it” (I’m not going to complete that thought, but in my anger you can imagine how I would finish that phrase), counting on fear and (perhaps) ignorance to get a NO vote is completely wrong.

I welcome the chance to exhibit the moral courage needed to stand up to increasingly arrogant and forceful anti-union forces and fight for the collective good of all workers.

I now know that [my] College voted against the strike. I’m ashamed, and demoralized. I simply CANNOT understand how people who live paycheck to paycheck, like most of us, can be against organizations that try to look out for them. I simply cannot understand it. It goes against all logic and reason.

I hope this post is more clear!

I’d say that it is.  Personally, I’m in favour of banning all pronouns, to avoid future misunderstandings.  🙂

Basking for Trouble — A Reply to the Previous Post

Faculty members and other personnel are certainly entitled to their opinion and their vote, however it is far more productive and conducive to take a moral stand on issues that are concrete.

What about moral courage that fights for work loads that are not only manageable and appropriate, but geared towards helping our students learn?  How about academic freedom that enables teachers to formulate modes of inquiry that will encourage critical development over measures that are only valuable for their expediency?  How about taking a moral stand for future students, who will serve to benefit from the adoption of all [of the] Work Load Task Force recommendations, and not just those that help colleges save money?

Take a moral stand that counts, not one that grants the colleges more authority to control, coerce, and cajole.

A Dissenting Voice Basks…

I don’t know that outcome of the vote yet…I really have no idea what will happen.

I just wanted to say this: there are not many times in life when we’re called upon to demonstrate moral courage. To act publically, when many are against you, when many people think you are wrong and actively and angrily will tell you so, as may happen if we end up on the picket line.

I welcome, not without trepidation, this chance to publically demonstrate the moral courage, the intestinal fortitude, that it takes to stand up and say, NO, THIS IS WRONG.

A Reader from Durham College writes…

Negotiations are won by getting and using bargaining power.  You must be able to exert pressure on the other side.  At this point in time, Management’s bargaining team and the College Presidents have NOTHING to lose, strike or no strike.  Therefore, to develop bargaining power we have to make them vulnerable.  How(?)…by embarrassing them and the McGuinty government responsible for the financial abuses that are perpetrated, in every College by the Presidents and their complicit, puppet Boards of Governors.  Any 2’nd year accounting student could easily identify the self-serving greed of the Colleges’ administrations.  The obscene pay increases of Presidents, Vice-Presidents and other administrators are publicized.
Administration empire-building is the the path to personal gain. To get an additional $20,000 in salary, an administrator probably spends $300,000 in unnecessary additional staff.
The Prime Minister earns less than many Ontario college presidents.  Are these guys (and ladies) elite academic leaders? Give me a break!
So how do / why can they do it?  It is obvious that the Ministry is responsible for the fact that College Presidents have carte blanche to stuff their own pay envelopes first and then cut back on, that which they consider to be waste…the teaching payroll.

I suggest…(1) We publicly accept the 1.75% increase and take salary off the table.  (2) Demand NO other material changes to the (expired) contract. (3)Hire a financial analyst and a public relations consultant to clarify what this is dispute is really about…unfetterred greed on the part of “tin-pot” dictatorial college presidents and complete abandonment by the Government of its fiduciary responsibilty.

Your points are well taken, although we might not prioritize similar issues.  I’m more concerned with how much my colleague (who is a single mother of two) is making than how much the president of the college is making, and I’m not sure that money taken from the latter will mean more money for the former.  I’m more concerned with my ability to fulfill my role as professor than with the Government’s diligence in its role as fiscal overseer.

I do agree with you, though,  that salary is a distraction from the real issues,  and I’d probably be satisfied with the college’s 2%/year offer, given a two-year contract (not four, as the colleges seem to want) on the condition that we made non-monetary gains, regarding workload and our professional relationships.  Note though, that your own suggestions would leave us without academic freedom or any modicum of real power over our own classes, for several more years.  Personally, I’d like to see those things in our next contract.

A Partial-Load Prof in the GTA Asks

The question is whether the overreliance on partial-load faculty is an urban phenomenon, or province-wide:

Hi all profs in the non-Toronto colleges,
I am trying to get a fix on the number of partial load and part-timers used in the non-Toronto colleges. In Toronto, at Seneca, Centennial, Humber, etc. the use is rampant. There are more non-tenured than tenured faculty by a proportion of more than 70/30. Please contact me at joyce.hall@senecac.on.ca
to give me your impression of the proportions at your colleges. Thanks.

No less importantly, I invite partial-load faculty to e-mail me (confidentially) at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com — get your story on the “Profs’ Stories” page, and share your thoughts about why the upcoming strike vote will or won’t affect you, personally.