Open Letter from a GTA Partial-Load Prof

So the following letter has been published at the website of Fanshawe College’s Local 110  I wanted to pass it along, and I encourage you to share it with your colleagues, referring them to this page of the Local 110 site.
I’ve taken the liberty of adding a couple of links to the letter below, to provide some additional background context to the author’s points.
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At great risk to her career, a partial-load professor asked us to circulate the following letter anonymously.

Dear CAAT-A faculty members:

I know that many of you have waited quite some time for an increase in your salaries. After the proposal by the College Presidents this past winter to the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development requesting a hefty increase to their salaries, I know that many of you deserve an increase in your salary too. And you do.  The 7.5% increase over four years seems like a tolerable offer along with the other proposals.

Like you, over the past three years, all members of the bargaining unit have worked hard and dedicated themselves to ensuring that our students have acquired the skills they will need in their future careers. Every one of us deserves a raise. However, note that the offer by the colleges does not provide any gains for partial load, counsellors and librarians.  The proposals offered by the colleges won’t change the workload or the unfairness quite a number of our members experience.

The changes to Article 22, Pregnancy and Parental Leave, proposed by the College provides beneficial changes but considering that a significant portion of professors at GTA colleges are partial load, they will not benefit from this adjustment.  Eight years ago, I was pregnant with my first child along as well as two other full time faculty members in our department. Being partial load, I was not offered a teaching or working contract for the following semester as my due date was during the term, but the other two employees were assigned other duties until their pregnancy leave kicked in. Unlike my full-time colleagues, who received 93% top up pay and the opportunity to extend their leave for another 12 months on Employment Insurance, my only source of income was EI but my leave was cut short. Unlike my full-time colleagues, my time was cut short as my EI would have ran out before I could return to teach at the start of a semester.

Bridging health benefits over the pregnancy and after the birth was another challenge. I was informed by the college’s HR representative that I could only bridge my benefits if I had an offer of employment, a contract, outlining my return to work within the six-month time period. During my ten plus years teaching in the Ontario College system, I have never had a contract that extended beyond four months and never received an additional contract that went beyond the semester I was to teach.  My supervisor, who was very compassionate and understanding, informed me in both circumstances that a contract could not be offered: not for one until the birth of my child nor after the birth of my child to extend my benefits.  Looking ahead without coverage was fearful and left me anxious of how I could deal and pay with what could happen with a new child.  Like me, there are many female partial load faculty I have known who leave the college before the start of a semester because their due dates interfere with contract dates.  As well, when we leave, coverage is rarely ever an option. I was diagnosed with post-partum depression and while I obtained assistance from municipal resources, I look back asking how extending benefits  without such challenges and complications or having benefits for the duration of a contract period while in the third trimester could have helped me cope better. This is why the Bargaining Team’s proposal of 12-month contract for partial load employees and adjustments to bridging benefits work for us as members of a collective bargaining unit.  It extends the same protections and rights to all.

The colleges wish to continue the extend the moratorium on Article 2 grievances for another four years. At Seneca College in the Winter 2015 semester, it cut partial load employees in favour of part time and sessional. This not only eroded the collective bargaining unit at the college but also impacted greatly the income and seniority of many partial load employees who had worked at the college for a number of years. As a result, the following summer and following semesters, many former partial load employees were unable to apply for Employment Insurance benefits and since the cuts, these professors had to seek additional teaching contracts at a second and sometimes third college. Some have left the college system, all of whom were valued professors. As well, this reduction in partial load led to the increase of more part time faculty, a class of workers not protected under a collective agreement. As a result, the college was able to offer teaching contracts to employees with less seniority and experience than former partial load members. The union’s Report on Education addresses the impact that the increased use of contract employees has had on full time members.  The current Collective Agreement provides job security protection to full time professors, counsellors and librarians, but not for partial load. The Bargaining Team’s adjustments to partial load’s job security and seniority helps ensure that partial load members who have acquired the experience and expertise can continue to do so. It works for all of us.

Finally, we all know that librarians and counsellors are just as crucial to student success as the professors and instructors. We collaborate with our colleagues in these areas to ensure students are given the support and resources they need to succeed not just in their program but when they enter the workforce. Unlike full time professors, counsellors and librarians do not have workload calculation formula. Listening to their experiences at the General Membership Meeting has helped me understand that partial load professors are not the only ones impacted by the current collective agreement. In some colleges in Ontario, there are no librarians and there is no ratio determined for counsellors and librarians per student enrollment.  They are truly overworked and need a workload calculation formula just like their colleagues and need specifics in the collective agreement that help them do their job well.

I want us all to get our salaries increases, to receive a fair wage, to be paid for all work, and to have a fair collective agreement, but if the union accepts the College’s proposal to wait until 30 days after Bill 148 goes into effect, January 1st, 2018, we cannot ensure that these “consequential adjustments”  to ensure “revenue neutrality” requested by the Colleges will be fair. The proposals that the union Bargaining Team sets out for all our members are in line with the changes to the Employment Standards Act and set a precedent for fairness. This is why the proposals put forth by the Bargaining Team work. It works for all of us.

The Colleges’ proposals do not address any of the demands put forth by our members and this is why we need to vote “Yes” to strike to ensure that negotiations continue to address union demandsLet’s fight together to ensure fairness for all members of our collective bargaining unit.  It is about “us”, for all of us, not just some of us.

Partial Load Professor

Region 5

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Feel free to offer your feedback to the letter, or to share your reactions with the letter’s author (I’m pretty sure we can make sure that any responses come to the author’s attention), by clicking “Leave a Comment”, below.

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.

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.]