College’s future uncertain after strike vote

College’s future uncertain after strike vote
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Photo by Jacqueline Delange/Courier Staff. Professor Sheldon Reisler (left) votes on the mandate to strike at CCC while professor David McCarthy (right) mans the voting booth.

By Courtney Kraik

After students returned for their winter semester, the atmosphere in the hallways echoed a quiet anxiety.

Ontario’s college faculty, represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU), voted in favour of exercising their right to strike. This vote set into motion the possibility for a province wide work-stop, affecting over 200,000 students across Ontario.

OPSEU, which represents roughly 10,000 full-time and part-time college faculty, held a vote across all Ontario college campuses on Jan. 13th inviting the professors to vote yes or no on the mandate to strike. Fifty-seven per cent of voting faculty were in favour of the mandate. This vote was relatively close compared to the vote to strike during the 2005/2006 academic year which expressed that over 80 per cent of the voting teachers wanted to exercise their right to strike. The issues discussed during the 2005/2006 strike are similar to the ones being tabled this time around.

Jacques O’Sullivan, the president of the OPSEU Local 558 chapter that represents Centennial, is frustrated with the lack of progress made at the bargaining table.

“We are just disappointed with the negotiations because we feel that the colleges aren’t living up to their imposed task force that was supposed to deal with our workloads,” he said.

A pay increase is also an issue. Colleges Ontario offers a 2 per cent increase over four years while OPSEU wants a 2.5 per cent increase over three years. However, the issue which has raised the most hackles on all sides is that of academic freedom.

Academic freedom refers to the relationship between faculty and management when making decisions that affect curriculum. Currently, management controls curriculum and simply consults with faculty.

OPSEU wants to make that relationship more collegial so that faculty and management work on curriculum issues together as equals.

Centennial English professor and College Council Representative for the School of Advancement, David McCarthy, explained the core issue at the heart of academic freedom.

“Academic freedom means a lot to me professionally and personally because it would mean I’d have more of a chance to know that my opinion counts and isn’t just considered through some consultative process with a superior employee at the college,” he said.

While bargaining between the two sides continues, students across the province have begun to voice their concern over the possibility of a work-stop which would halt classes.

Tyler Charlebois, the Director of Advocacy for the College Student Association (CSA) based in Toronto, says the CSA has taken “innumerable” calls from students concerned about the potential strike.

“There has been a lot of concern, frustration and worry over the possibility of losing the semester and maybe not being able to graduate in the spring,” he said. “Both sides say that what they’re negotiating for is in the best interest of the students, but is it? Their possible motives raise a lot of questions.”

Centennial College expressed that no matter what the outcome, students will not lose their semester, although the school declined to comment further.

Charlebois also said that the CSA believes both sides of the bargaining table are using students as betting chips. For some, this gamble is too high.

Centennial College Broadcasting and Film professor and Program Co-coordinator Sheldon Reisler considered how his strike mandate vote would affect Centennial students.

“Absolutely students and the quality of learning will be compromised if we have to go on strike because they won’t be sitting in classrooms,” he said. “The reason I’m voting is because I want to see a successful and positive resolution for all sides, especially for the students because they’re the ones that it all filters down to.”

Photo Courtesty of OPSEU 558. Ashtonbee faculty during the 2006 college strike.

1. The absence of a new contract: Faculty have worked without a contract since Aug. 2009 under terms they didn’t agree to.

The Colleges Collective Bargaining Act, 2008 allows Colleges Ontario to impose its own terms of employment on faculty when a contract expires and negotiations break down.

Some faculty view this as undemocratic. Also, without a contract there are no firm guidelines to establish fair workload.

2. Money: OPSEU wants a 7.5% wage increase over three years. Colleges Ontario offers 8% over four years.

3. Academic freedom: Faculty want to have an equal say in the development, delivery and critical review of curriculum.

If you would like more information, the Centennial College Student Association Inc. invites you to visit the following websites.

Your Opinions

The Courier asked students their opinions on Centennial’s contingency plans should a strike occur.

Centennial’s possible contingency plans:

“Depending on the length of a strike, we would consider such options as utilizing an upcoming break for classes, compressing course materials or class time, alternate course delivery methods, or an extension of the semester.” – Centennial student mailer, sent Jan. 13

“I would probably prefer an extension, but it depends on how long because what happens if you have plans in May?” – Ayan Melikli, Fine Arts student
“None of the options are great. If they cut our courses we’re screwed because it’s a practical course.” – Derek Walker, Broadcasting and Film student

“No extension. I’d rather be stressed with all that extra work than have an extension.” – Laura Grande, Fast-Track Journalism student
Centennial College says to keep in mind that should a strike occur, the school year will not be lost.

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