A Tale of Two Narratives…

Howdy, sports fans.

When I resumed blogging over the summer, I had originally intended to try to accompany my posts about this round of negotiations with the notation of an unfolding game of chess.

Looking back at it, I’m pretty happy that that conceit got dropped quickly, because it’s awfully hard to construct a chess game in which there’s a stalemate in under six moves.

But that’s apparently where we are: The Union’s bargaining is unwilling to abandon virtually all of its members’ demands for the sake of a settlement at the table; the Employer’s bargaining team is currently unwilling to negotiate any of the Union’s demands, opting instead to stand pat with an offer that offers a salary increase averaging less than 1.9% annually over the next four years.

And so, both teams’ latest bulletins share a strange agreement that the situation has been reduced to a binary: If the Union membership wishes to see any changes other than the offered salary increase, then authorizing a strike is the only way to accomplish that.

One would assume, then, that the obligation attending both sides’ communications would be to defend their current positions, and seeming intransigence. For the Union, it would be an obligation to explain why the demands are significant enough to justify seeking a strike mandate; for management it would be an obligation to explain why it cannot further negotiate any remaining demands.

You can find the latest messages from each side on the right-hand column, and you can decide for yourself which bulletin best manages to meet that standard.

Personally, I’m struck by both the similarity of the newsletters’ respective headlines, but also to the significance of how they diverge.

The Union’s newsletter is entitled “Two visions for a system in crisis”.  It situates the current stalemate between the two sides in their radically different notion about the fundamentals of staffing and academic decision-making in Ontario colleges, and whether the status quo (which is fundamentally unchanged since the system’s founding in 1967) is sufficient for the current and future needs of the system’s students, and by extension Ontario’s society and economy.

The Employer’s newsletter is entitled “Two paths: Strike or settlement”. It features a rhetorical return to what I earlier described as “the paternal tone of a benevolent, sweater-vest-clad figure whose job it is to make difficult choices in the face of scarce resources”.  That voice tells us that having an established minimum ratio of Full-Time faculty is just too darn expensive, so management should be able to have complete, unfettered control over staffing, with no obligation to hire a single full-time faculty member for the next four years.  Because the Employer knows best what the system needs.

That voice also drops in regret, to warn us that it would be far, far too risky to entrust the education of Ontario College students to… the people who actually provide that education. But rest assured that it thinks that faculty are really, really special – we’re even “critical to academic decision making”.

This, in an explanation about why the Collective Agreement cannot possibly be changed in a way that would make faculty . . . critical to academic decision-making.

“So look, Union members,” the sweater vest tells us, “Why this windmill-chasing and why the dreams of stepping somewhere you don’t belong?  Know your place, and tell your team to stop this foolishness, so that we can come to a settlement that doesn’t… disrupt anything. And everything can go back to exactly the way it was in the good old days. We know that you have needs, so we’ve left some money on the table for you – you can take it as you leave. Get yourself something nice with it.  And hey — You’re really special to me.  Let’s meet up again soon.”

•                    •                    •

In the end, we’re presented with binaries, but the intersections exist on different planes: The Employer is discussing what is needed for a successful, effective round of negotiations, and making arguments about how to best achieve it. The Union is discussing what is needed for a successful, effective College system, and making arguments about how to achieve it.

What’s missing, in my opinion, from the Employer’s messaging – and has been missing this entire round of negotiations – is any positive defense of the status quo of the Ontario College system. Any positive explanation of how the system benefits from having 80% of faculty on short-term contracts; how the system benefits from explicitly taking academic decisions out of the hands of academic experts; how the system benefits from the lack of a workload formula for counsellors and librarians, or the lack of a workload formula that takes into account the unique workload associated with online or hybrid teaching.

These are all elements of the current Ontario college system – of the status quo that is the product of our past Collective Agreements and the Employer’s decisions.  The Employer has made no effort to defend those decisions, or make a persuasive argument about the superiority of the education provided by the current system over that proposed by the Union.

Ultimately, I interpret this to mean that the Employer believes that it doesn’t need to justify the current state of the College system to the faculty, who are actually performing the Colleges’ raison d’etre.  More importantly, it indicates that the Employer believes that faculty share that opinion.


For Those Just Tuning In…

I originally intended to crunch some numbers here and look at what the Employer’s offer really means for the financial life of its intended audience.  But then I started trying to summarize the negotiations so far (from what I can interpret, based on the parties’ public statements), and, well, I got a bit carried away.

So today will be that background/summary; soon I’ll try to get into the weeds.

For those of you just tuning in, you may recall the that College Faculty (OPSEU CAAT-A) bargaining team was charged with negotiating a list of demands that originated from Local demand-setting meetings that were held at each of the 24 Colleges.

Probably the best summation of the demands presented to the bargaining team can be found on pages 3 and 4 of the Negotiations Bulletin #3 (located here for those reading on phones and here for those who like the graphics).

Those demands include workload measurements for all faculty, so that all of our work — including the work of partial-load faculty, counsellors, and librarians — is actually measured and so that we have sufficient time to properly help our students.  They also include improved job security for all faculty, plus language that limits outsourcing, and language to limit the erosion of Full-Time jobs within the bargaining unit.  They also include demands that would give faculty meaningful authority to make the academic decisions that their expertise as educators uniquely qualifies them to make.

Judging from the following Negotiations Bulletin (#4) (web text here; colourful pdf here), those demands met… a chilly reception.  To quote from the Bulletin:

[I]t only took 24 hours from the union’s presentation of their first set of proposals . . . for management to declare their lack of belief in the need to discuss issues ranging from faculty’s top issue of academic freedom / collegial governance to the grievance process.

The College Employer Council’s bargaining team’s refusal to consider demands at the, er, bargaining (or is that “bargaining”?) table resulted in the faculty bargaining team’s requesting an OLRB-appointed conciliator, and, later, requesting that a strike authorization vote be held in September.

That, in turn, inspired management to broadcast an offer directly to faculty, seemingly in an effort to bypass negotiating with a democratically-elected bargaining team.

And the offer?  Well, nothing about workload; nothing about Partial-Load; nothing about counsellors; nothing about librarians; nothing about job security; nothing about decision-making authority.

Let’s just say that the College management is clearly contented with the status quo, and the offer is clearly designed to maintain that status quo — of an overreliance on contract faculty who are treated as fungible; of a decision-making authority that rests exclusively in the hands of those who may lack teaching experience; of college credits literally being obtainable at McDonalds.

The offer does, however, offer money.  Not much else — maybe even a new expense — but it does offer money.

And evidently, the College Employer Council believes that that offer of money is so important, that it had to be shared directly with the union membership.  In fact, the Employer’s Offer FAQ included the following:

4. Why are you putting out the terms of the offer? Isn’t that bargaining in public?

OPSEU . . . did not provide any information to its members about the 7.5% increase, the new maximum of $115,094, and other benefits with no concessions. We felt it very important to get the information out to faculty. 

Well… mission accomplished?

So let’s start (and, for today’s purposes, finish) with some reasonably self-evident conclusions.

  • The employer would rather offer money than negotiate any meaningful changes to the work that we do, and how we do it.
  • The employer is counting that college faculty care about salary, to the exclusion of every other issue.
  • The employer would rather hold up dollar bills to the members than negotiate the members’ demands through the bargaining process to which they apparently have committed themselves.
  • The employer feels no compulsion to negotiate serious issues, when they have the option instead of trying to get Union members to hold votes on the employer’s offer(s)

All of which leads me to my final, tentative conclusion (which is obviously subject to change in the face of new information and events):

The employer will feel no compulsion to negotiate serious issues when they are given any alternative, whatsover.

And, by logical extension:

The College Employer Council bargaining team will negotiate serious issues only when given no alternative.

And, by logical extension:

If Ontario College faculty truly wish to see fairness for Partial-Load faculty, authority over any educational decisions, control over our own students’ grades, ownership of the material we produce as teachers (to protect our own jobs), or a workload formula that truly measures all of the work that we do, there is only one route by which to make any possible gains in any of those areas, at the bargaining table.


[Are my conclusions based upon an error in reasoning?  Are they premature, given the data?  Are they consistent the experience or previous rounds, or your experience at your college?  Hit “Leave a comment”, below, to let me know.]

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:


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:


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.]

Employer’s Offer; Union’s Response

Okay, well — a bit of excitement on the negotiations front.

The College Employer Council bargaining team had presented an offer (dated August 1) to the College Faculty bargaining team, and today made that offer public, along with an announcement and explanatory FAQ , in the form of a third “Academic Bargaining Update” (both of which I hope to post on the right-hand column).

(It appears to have been sent today to faculty in some, but not all Ontario Colleges.  This is curious only because the Council in its FAQ justifies the public broadcasting of its offer by stating ” We felt it very important to get the information out to faculty”.)

In response, the OPSEU Faculty bargaining team has e-mailed an initial response to members, which I’m copying  below (since I can’t yet find it online, to link to).

Please stay tuned for my initial thoughts and criticism^H^H^H^Hque; I invite you to pre-empt my thoughts with your own, by sending them to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.

P.S.: The CAAT-A (Faculty) bargaining team’s immediate reply is as follows.


Dear Members:

You may have received a communication from your employer indicating that a settlement proposal was brought by the Employer to the Bargaining Team last week. The Team followed our consultation process in sharing the proposal confidentially with the Presidents of all 24 Union Locals as well as the Bargaining Advisory Committee (BAC), which is comprised of 24 full-time and 8 partial-load faculty members. The Presidents and the BAC agreed that the proposal is flawed for a number of reasons set out below. The Team is considering an appropriate response to the proposal.

The settlement proposal is actually a four-year extension of the existing 2014-2017 Collective Agreement, including an extension of all of the concessions from the last round. This proposal has serious negative implications to our members that the Team cannot accept. Here are the key features of the proposal:

(1) The existing moratorium on Article 2 would remain in place for another four years. In other words, the terms of this offer would not allow us to grieve for any new full-time faculty positions over the next four years. With 70% of our faculty complement already being contract faculty, the Employer’s offer would only worsen this situation; it would radically reduce the overall number of full-time faculty as retirement and other openings are not filled. This will have implications around workload for full-time faculty, few pathways to full-time employment for partial-load members who desire that, and a general weakening of our union as we continue to bleed full-time positions. Our membership has been clear that this is unacceptable;

(2) The salary increase being proposed is less than the rate of inflation and would result in our members earning less in real income by the end of the four-year extension than they are today;

(3) There are no meaningful gains for our partial load members. Precarious work would continue to be as much of a problem over the next four years as it is today;

(4) There is language around Bill 148 – proposed provincial legislation that is meant to ensure equal pay for equal work – that will undermine the application of that legislation once in place to the detriment of our members. Under the Employer’s proposed language, for partial-load faculty to make any gains in wages and benefits, it will come at the expense of full-time members, thereby pitting the two groups against each other; and

(5) None of our members’ concerns around academic freedom, intellectual property, collegial governance, or workload have been addressed.

In short, the consensus of the Team, the Local Presidents and the BAC is that this offer is unacceptable as it stands. If the Employer really believes that this is a solid offer, they can bring it directly to the membership for a final offer vote as set out under the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act

We are taking this opportunity to underscore the need for a strong strike vote from our members to send the Employer a message that we are united in negotiating a new Collective Agreement that reflects a better plan which addresses the demands of our members.

In solidarity,

The CAAT-A Bargaining Team

2017 Negotiations Messages (#3)

So, I wanted to come back to the College Employer Council’s first Academic Bargaining Update (June 8, 2017). In my last post, I looked at the first half of the Update – the bios of the team members.

Thanks to both of you for reading it, by the way.

So, moving on to the second half of the CEC’s Bargaining Update. Now, I note that this newsletter came out almost one month before the first scheduled day of negotiations (on July 4).  As such, the Update would be expected to set out the broadest general themes that the Council’s bargaining team brings to the table.

In the last post I pointed out that the newsletter was marked by overall tone of experience and professionalism. It’s the rhetorical embodiment of Stephen Harper’s sweater-vest, and it’s quite effective at communicating an ethos as custodian of the public purse. That’s even clearer in the last two pages, where the essential opening strategic position is presented.


Now, since I work in words, I’m kind of struck that this issue of the Update has surprisingly few of them. In a four-page newsletter, the body of pages 3 and 4 consists of thirteen sentences (by my count), which fall under under one heading and five subheadings. That’s an average of less than just over two sentences per sub/heading, with a large banner on the right-hand third of the page that restates or summarizes the sentences of the body.



In short, for roughly every two sentences, there’s a heading and a large-print summary on the right. Of the nine paragraphs on these pages, I count six that have only one sentence.

So, why does that matter? Well, firstly it would seem to confirm my Chair’s wisdom in never assigning me to teach a Business Communications class, so there’s that. You see, I’ve always taught my students that any kind of persuasive writing depends upon a structure that includes claims, evidence, and analysis. The one- or two-sentence paragraph has the effect of removing the analysis altogether, leaving one sentence of claim, and (possibly) a second sentence summarizing one of the three charts introduced as evidence.

In the end, it turns an argument into a bullet-point list of claims — no context, no developed relationships between ideas, just a parade of assertions, with occasional sentences telling readers what to look for in the next colourful graph.

The overall thesis can be found in sentence 3: “We have invested in faculty despite a challenging financial environment”.  Just in case you missed it, that claim is repeated again in the very next sentence: “Ontario colleges have consciously invested in our faculty despite a very challenging economic environment.”  (Seriously: was the word ‘consciously’ added merely to distinguish the two sentences, or is it designed to inspire confidence in the CEC’s responsible stewardship, by reassuring readers that there was no unconsicous investment in faculty? That all investment was influenced by neither reflex nor Freudian impulse?)

But I digress.

Now, just in case you missed the theme of “investing in faculty” in sentences 3 and/or 4, the newsletter helpfully includes that phrase an additional five times, all in 20 point font.

I am not making this up.

*               *               *

So, “Times are tough, but we’ve invested in faculty”. That’s the message, and it’s presented authoritatively and effectively, in the paternal tone of a benevolent, sweater-vest-clad figure whose job it is to make difficult choices in the face of scarce resources. Presented authoritatively and effectively. . . in virtually every single sentence of the Update’s second half.

Now, I note that this was the first Bargaining Update from the CEC, so perhaps extensive messenging is too much to expect, particularly given that it was published prior to the first day of bargaining. With that said, it was published roughly three months after the bargaining demands from the CAAT-A Union members had been published in the Union’s 2nd Negotiations Bulletin, in March – demands that include issues like job security for contract faculty, academic freedom, intellectual property rights, the recognition of all workload performed, and workload metrics for counsellors and librarians.

In short, there are many different demands put forth by the Union – some of which can logically be answered by saying “we’ve invested in faculty despite tough economic times”, and some of which rather clearly cannot.

One possibility is that the CEC never seriously considered responding to the Union’s demands in the public arena, and instead opted for (what I am now learning is) a classic marketing principle, known as the “Rule of Seven”, which states that “a prospective buyer likely won’t see or hear a marketing message, or seriously consider buying, until they’ve been exposed to the message at least seven times“.

The question that remains is: Does the College Employer Council’s repeating the “investing in faculty despite tough economic times” theme reinforce that message (per the principles of marketing), or instead underscore the lack of a second message?

Time, perhaps, will tell.  In the meantime, I hope to look at some of the evidence provided by the CEC in my next post.

As ever, I invite you to send your thoughts, prayers, corrections and objections to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.

2017 Negotiations Messages (#2)

So, the CAAT-A bargaining team appears to be putting out newsletters at a prodigious rate, having recently published the fourth Negotiations Update (also linked on the right-hand column), before I’d had a chance to read the third.

Of course, that fourth one was motivated by events, specifically the CAAT-A bargaining team’s request that the Ontario Labour Relations Board appoint a conciliator to help break through a perceived logjam in negotiations, when the two teams resume negotiations in August.  This request has a couple of implications, and I hope to have the chance to discuss them soon.

But I wanted to take a moment to turn my thoughts to the College Employer Council’s first Negotiations Update (June 8, 2017).CECBulletin1

If the OPSEU Bargaining Team’s newsletter was characterized by the themes of dynamism and diversity, the first management-side newsletter was conversely characterized by themes of professionalism and experience.

That tone of confident experience is, in fact, present from the first word of the College management’s first headline: “Experienced Colleges’ Bargaining Team Prepares for 2017 Negotiations”.

(Now, I had been under the impression that the team was in fact the College Employer Council’s bargaining team, but there’s every possibility that that I’m incorrect on that point, despite the fact that–in every Collective Agreement in the last 10 years–the pages where the two teams are listed as signatories does identify the members of the management-side bargaining team as signing “For the Council”, not “For the Colleges”.)






But I digress…

Experience.  Professionalism.

You can see it in the suit jackets featured in the cover page team photo (I count three blue, two black, one charcoal, and one tan, for those keeping score at home), as well as the graphs, which are (I must confess) an object of envy.

The theme also carries through the bios of the nine team members.  If my math is correct, I note that two of the bios list roles as college VPs; two as deans; three as Chairs; a whopping four with Human Resources backgrounds.

So, evidently, the field of Human Resources is the path to which high school guidance counsellors should direct aspiring future “College” bargaining team members, if the current bios are any indication.  A close second, seemingly, would be law: Three of the team members boast background as legal practitioners.

A less likely path to becoming one of the nine people representing the Colleges in bargaining that affects all 24 public Colleges in Ontario, and directly shapes the education of well over 200,000 full-time students each year?  College Professor.  Only two bios of the nine bargaining team members make any reference at all to teaching experience.

Granted, maybe all nine of them have College teaching experience and know what it’s like inside a College classroom, and know the difference in preparation required by an online course vs. one taught in-class, and know how long it takes to rewrite a midterm exam for the benefit of a student with a special needs accommodation.

Maybe all nine of them have that kind of knowledge, because those are precisely the kinds of workload issues that the College Employer Council has charged them with negotiating.  So it’s reasonable for Ontario taxpayers to expect that they have a first-hand knowledge of the kind of issues impacting students that they are currently negotiating.

But if all nine of them have that experience, that authority–well, only two of the bios made reference to it.  Maybe knowledge of how Ontario College students actually receive their education wasn’t considered as important as, say, law degrees or experience in HR departments.

And perhaps reasonable people can disagree on whether it’s important for the people who have been placed in a position to negotiate Article 11.01 E3 (which attributes time to faculty for evaluating and providing feedback to students) on behalf of the Colleges have any experience whatsoever in the task of evaluating and providing feedback to students.
In fact, I invite reasonable people to disagree about this issue on this very forum, by e-mailing their thoughts to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.

My next post will look at some of the claims in the Council Bargaining Team’s first newsletter.  In the meantime, I’ll sign off with a passage from Plato’s Ion that comes to mind.

Soc. Tell me then, what Nestor says to Antilochus, his son, where he bids him be careful of the turn at the horse-race in honour of Patroclus.
Ion. He says: “Bend gently in the polished chariot to the left of them, and urge the horse on the right hand with whip and voice; and slacken the rein. And when you are at the goal, let the left horse draw near, yet so that the nave of the well-wrought wheel may not even seem to touch the extremity; and avoid catching the stone.
Soc. Enough. Now, Ion, will the charioteer or the physician be the better judge of the propriety of these lines?
Ion. The charioteer, clearly.
Soc. And will the reason be that this is his art, or will there be any other reason?
Ion. No, that will be the reason.
Soc. And every art is appointed by God to have knowledge of a certain work; for that which we know by the art of the pilot we do not know by the art of medicine?
Ion. Certainly not.
Soc. Nor do we know by the art of the carpenter that which we know by the art of medicine?
Ion. Certainly not.
Soc. And this is true of all the arts;- that which we know with one art we do not know with the other? But let me ask a prior question: You admit that there are differences of arts?
Ion. Yes.
Soc. You would argue, as I should, that when one art is of one kind of knowledge and another of another, they are different?
Ion. Yes.
Soc. Yes, surely; for if the subject of knowledge were the same, there would be no meaning in saying that the arts were different,- if they both gave the same knowledge. For example, I know that here are five fingers, and you know the same. And if I were to ask whether I and you became acquainted with this fact by the help of the same art of arithmetic, you would acknowledge that we did?
Ion. Yes.
[. . . ]
Soc. Then he who has no knowledge of a particular art will have no right judgment of the sayings and doings of that art?
Ion. Very true.
Soc. Then which will be a better judge of the lines which you were reciting from Homer, you or the charioteer?
Ion. The charioteer.
Soc. Why, yes, because you are a rhapsode and not a charioteer.
Ion. Yes.
Soc. And the art of the rhapsode is different from that of the charioteer?
Ion. Yes.
Soc. And if a different knowledge, then a knowledge of different matters?
Ion. True.

Experience.  Professionalism.

But which experiences?  And which profession?

As ever, feel free to direct your thoughts, corrections, questions, and criticisms to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com