Back to the picket line: Striking faculty reject college council’s latest offer

Ontario’s striking college faculty, including those in Ryerson’s collaborative nursing program, rejected an offer from the College Employers Council on Tuesdaysending them back to the picket line.

Eighty-six per cent of the 12,000 striking faculty members voted against the offer, prolonging the strike, now in its fifth week.

College faculty and staff have been on strike since Oct. 16. (Photo by Aidan Macnab)

In response, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the government’s intention to table back-to-work legislation soon. “We have said repeatedly that students have been in the middle of this strike for too long and it is not fair. We need to get them back to the classroom,” Wynne said in a statement Thursday evening.

Early Thursday morning, the Premier was blocked by the NDP from attempting to introduce back-to-work legislation. The Liberals then turned to ask to reconvene the legislature Friday and said the House could sit through the weekend until the legislation is passed.

“If they do that, the labour movement must oppose it,” OPSEU president Warren Thomas said, noting Wynne’s previous efforts to use back-to-work legislation have not survived constitutional challenge.

“They (the council) need to be ready to bargain on faculty terms,” said J.P. Hornick, chair of the OPSEU college faculty bargaining team.

“There is still an opportunity to save this semester,” Hornick said. “This can’t go another week, we need students back in their classrooms next week.”

If the strike is prolonged any further, Hornick said it will be tough to meet learning outcomes to make sure students are ready to graduate or to begin a co-op placement.

“We’re in dangerous territory,” Hornick said.

The vote came after the OPSEU bargaining team made a “unanimous call” for faculty members to reject the council’s offer. Key issues like high rates of part-time hiring and what the union terms academic freedom were unaddressed in the council’s offer, OPSEU said.

When it comes to part-time hiring, the bargaining team said the rejected offer made by the council showed no sign that the employers were ready to compromise. “The language (proposed by the council) said it could hire part-time faculty unless it had the expressed intention to undermine our bargaining unit. That threshold is so high, it’s ridiculous. Unless someone said ‘we’re hiring them part-time to undermine the union,’ we couldn’t challenge it,” Hornick said.

George Brown instructor Anna Willats said she has been on part-time contracts at the college for 17 years.

“Everyone in the system is stressed and that doesn’t make for good teaching or good learning,” she said.

The union wanted an end to provisions allowing college deans and chairs to overturn marks and mandate the use of textbooks and course content from publishers, against the will of faculty.

“With your nursing faculty, do you want a nurse designing the course, setting the evaluation and telling you if the student has met learning outcomes or do you want a dean who may or may not even have experiences as a nurse or in the health sciences?” Hornick said.

“We’ve always been fighting for academic freedom and we’ve never had it, but this time we’re not going to take no for an answer,” said Chrisy Tremblay, OPSEU Region 4 executive board member.

The council declined the Ryersonian’s request to comment, but issued a statement on behalf of its bargaining team chair, Sonia Del Missier.

The statement read: “By rejecting the offer (faculty) have chosen to continue to strike. This is a terrible result for the 500,000 students who remain out of class. I completely sympathize with our students who have been caught in this strike for more than four weeks. This strike has gone on for too long –  and we still need to resolve it and get our students and faculty back in class.”

“Faculty started a petition last week to get students reimbursed, out of what the colleges are saving, so we see that as a key issue. Students have been incredibly disadvantaged in this process,” Hornick said. “The council has tried to divide and conquer on those levels and we’re just not having any of it. They know we’re here for our students”

Thomas said most of the calls he has received from students and their parents have been supportive outright or upset about the disturbance, but supportive of the union’s efforts. One in ten, he said, are “totally opposed to us.”

The council stated its commitment to remaining “in touch with the provincially appointed mediator to seek his direction to the parties.”

Johanna VanderMaas, Ryerson’s Public Affairs Manager, said Ryerson is “not in a position to offer comment on the strike negotiations.”

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