Strike Vote Reactions (II)

Some different reactions to Thursday’s strike vote have come in to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.  I’m happy to give pride of place to our most frequent contributor:

While not wholly redemptive, yesterday’s show of solidarity in the face of managerial paternalism, disrespect and indifference to the greater issues of authentic education certainly seems to betoken a new and better mood and strength of character among college faculty.

An endorsement of the “strike mandate” by 75%, 80% or (preferably) over 90% would have been tremendous, but a result of more than two-thirds support for our position was probably good enough for now. So, a hearty shout of “well done!” is much deserved by the organizers, activists and members of the Union Locals across the province.

Whether the employer will soften its position of blatant, contemptuous predismissal of our demands (not obsequious “requests” as one local college management put it) remains to be seen.

The fallacious and frankly irrelevant claims that the colleges can’t afford the alleged financial costs of “academic” freedom must not prevail.

Academic freedom and faculty co-determination of college policies are not luxuries which we wish to enjoy, but are essential in and definitive of any colleges worthy of the name.

 

Advertisements

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.”

Decision Day 2017 (1.0)

Hi all,

Please feel free to e-mail your last-minute thoughts, unsubstantiated rumours, or reports from your campus to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.  I’ll do my best to post/update as the day progresses.

To start off the day, below, please find a copy of the pre-vote message being distributed by Local 653 (at Northern College)


Some points of clarification (and why you should vote “YES”)

The latest communication from the College Council contains a few “stretchers” (to borrow a term from Huck Finn).  We will attempt to clarify some of the confusion that may be caused by this missive, and at the same time hopefully make a compelling case for voting “yes” on Thursday.

1. “Voting ‘yes’ to a strike will not change the colleges’ ability to agree to the union’s demands.”

Fortunately, the bargaining team is not asking that the colleges “agree” to the union’s demands.  They are simply asking that the College Council be willing to discuss and negotiate the issues that are being brought to the table.  This is something that they have to date refused to do.  Remember that the issues of collegial governance and academic freedom, fairness for contract faculty, and recognition of online teaching workloads are ones that you, the members, have listed as being important.  You participated in the demand setting process, and through that you have asked your bargaining team to bring these issues to management for discussion.

So far no discussions on these issues have taken place as the Council simply refuses to acknowledge or negotiate them.  The College Council absolutely has the ability to negotiate these issues. There is a difference between not wanting to do something and not being able to do something.

A strike mandate will make it clear to the Council that the membership strongly believes in these issues and that it is finally time to acknowledge them and negotiate something that both sides can work with.

2. “In previous bargaining rounds, when the union bargaining team has been granted a strike mandate by faculty, it has normally led to strike action”

We have had three strikes during the 50 year history of the Ontario College system.  In that same time, the union has held twelve strike votes.  In other words 75% of past strike votes have led to a settlement and not a strike.  Perhaps the Council has a different understanding of “normally”, but in our opinion a more honest statement would be “In previous bargaining rounds, when the union bargaining team has been granted a strike mandate by faculty, it has normally led to a settlement with no strike action

3. “Colleges’ offer contains no concessions…”

The colleges’ offer is largely an extension of the current contract. That contract, signed in 2014, contained a major concession in the moratorium on Article 2 grievances.  Article 2 specifies that the colleges should give “preference to the designation of full-time positions” over contract positions (Partial Load, Sessional or Part-Time).  Article 2 grievances have been used to pressure the colleges to fill open full-time positions and create new full-time positions where the workload exists.  This moratorium was a major concession that was only supposed to last the 3 years of  the contract.

During that time, we have seen the use of contract faculty continue to swell to the point where now 81% of the teaching contact hours across the college system are delivered by non-full-time faculty.

Clearly the Colleges are unable to restrain themselves when it comes to hiring contract faculty over full-time.  What will the ratio of full-time to contract faculty be with four more years of the Article 2 grievance moratorium?  Extending this moratorium is a major concession in this offer and it is completely disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

4. “These new positions directly contradict OPSEU’s assertions that colleges are decreasing faculty positions in favour of part-time and sessional hires”

The bargaining team has never claimed that the total numbers of full-time faculty have decreased, so the statement above is deliberately misleading.  The team has spoken about the ratio of full-time to non-full-time faculty which has been steadily increasing to the point where we now have 81% of the teaching contact hours across the college delivered by non-full-time faculty.  That is a fact and is calculated using numbers provided by the College Council. The union’s position  is that it is unsustainable to have so much of the teaching done by precarious workers.

The Council also loves to talk about Partial-Load faculty as though they are not contract faculty.  Yes, our Partial-Load colleagues are covered by parts of the collective agreement, but all the issues that affect Part-Time and Sessional employees also affect Partial-Load: they have no SWF, next to no job security, and have to reapply for their positions every four months.  They, like all non-full-time faculty, are precarious workers and the system is relying on them far too heavily.  The colleges are refusing to make the appropriate investments in full-time faculty.

For a Local 653 take on the contract faculty issue, please see our earlier post from August 28.

One thing we can agree on is that it is important to vote, and we hope that faculty will show up in large numbers at the polling stations.  The issues currently at the table are not new.  They have been presented by the union and dismissed by the College Council in at least the last two bargaining rounds.  Now is the time to stand together and show that these issues matter and need to be addressed for the good of the college system as a whole.

One Partial-Load Faculty Writes…

There’s a recent article in the New York Times that I think is telling — it compares the working conditions of janitors for two extremely prosperous companies — one at Eastman Kodak in the 1980’s; the other at Apple today.
To quote from the article:
Ms. Evans was a full-time employee of Kodak. She received more than four weeks of paid vacation per year, reimbursement of some tuition costs to go to college part time, and a bonus payment every March. When the facility she cleaned was shut down, the company found another job for her: cutting film.
Ms. Ramos is an employee of a contractor that Apple uses to keep its facilities clean. She hasn’t taken a vacation in years, because she can’t afford the lost wages. Going back to school is similarly out of reach. There are certainly no bonuses, nor even a remote possibility of being transferred to some other role at Apple
Yet the biggest difference between their two experiences is in the opportunities they created. [ . . .]
They both spent a lot of time cleaning floors. The difference is, for Ms. Ramos, that work is also a ceiling.
I’m reminded of this story, now that the following letter has arrived in the mailbox from a Partial-Load faculty
I’ve been a partial load professor for close to 10 years in the same program at the same institution. I am reduced down to part-time in the summer. Thankfully I get renewed every year but am forced to wait a week before classes start to get a contract .
This year 2 positions came up that I was qualified for and as the bargaining agreement states, I would be considered as an internal candidate . After 10 years teaching I was so hopeful to finally have an opportunity to interview .
Alas, I was not granted an interview because I did not have a 3-year diploma in my field. The diploma I have is a 2-year diploma. This diploma was obtained 20 years ago at the very institution I teach for. Seems like an ageist approach to hiring considering 3-year diplomas were introduced into the Ontario college system about 10 years ago.
I am pursuing a Masters in education. I am starting my thesis in December. I am paying for through my own funds. That credential had no impact, nor the years of teaching, or the 20 years of experience I have in my field to obtain an interview.
The system is broken for the people who actually want to be full-time professors.
Thirty-five years ago, American industry didn’t have an underclass of front-line employees for which job mobility was a distant prospect.  Now it does.
Can the same story be told of Ontario colleges?

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.