Strike Odds 'n' Ends, Part XVIII

Students rally
Protesting students bolstered the picket-line on Cabana Road on Thursday, calling for an end to the strike, and more answers – from someone, anyone – about their many questions and concerns.

NEWS, ANALYSIS AND OPINION

By E.P. Chant, Managing Editor, Student Publications

A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM ME, E.P. CHANT:

Yesterday, on the SRC Facebook page, I was referred to as a “propangandist”, an “apologist”, a “management stooge”, “inflammatory”, and one or two other things. I’ve been called worse, often by close friends and family.

I was also called “biased”. In this instance, I’ll have to plead “guilty as charged”. I was biased against work-stoppages that endangered students’ education when one took place during my high school years, I was biased against them when my daughter experienced one in elementary school, and I’m biased against the one currently traumatizing college students. That such actions are allowed to occur in our province – especially of a prolonged nature – is, I think, deplorable. That’s my bias.

Biased against the faculty union? Granted, I have quibbled, questioned and vehemently disagreed with some of its issues and positions. Sorry, I’ve just never been a blinders-on, “you’re either entirely with us or you’re entirely against us” type of person.

But, overall, if it’s any consolation to my faculty friends (which it won’t be, because my opinion is valueless), I think OPSEU’s team has conducted one of the most brilliant and effective negotiating performances that has occurred in the public-sector of this province in the past couple decades. It has achieved probably 75 percent of its goals, and that percentage will be bumped up even higher when Bill 148 provides additional improvements to its membership’s work conditions. Most unions would be – and should be – dancing in the streets having accomplished such exceptional and societally far-reaching results.

But, no, instead of celebrating and consolidating its victories, the union has chosen to go to the well once more (once too often?) to hoist up a nice big bucket of Academic Freedom.

Misnomer Alert! As The Toronto Star pointed out yesterday, the issue at-hand isn’t really Academic Freedom at all … It is Academic Control – the faculty want unilateral power in their classrooms, with virtually no managerial/administrative input or oversight. (But, in terms of public relations “spin”, you can solicit much more sympathy and support if you say “We are not free!” as opposed to “We want to be in control”.)

Ultimately, in all contract bargaining scenarios, there must be a “winner”. That’s a tough one to pick here. The Council has “won” by retaining certain facets of managerial power, and certainly by saving a lot of money as the strike has run its course. OPSEU “won” many new immediate benefits and upgrades in employment-conditions for its members, and has laid the groundwork for quality-of-work and (indeed) quality-of-life improvements for workers in all economic sectors in the future. The provincial government? … Well, you’ve done sweet dick-all during this whole situation, so screw you.

But, and this is only my opinion (although it might just be the SRC’s too), I won’t be sending “Congratulations!” cards to any of the “winners”. Whatever they have won is far, far outweighed by what students have lost, immeasurably, irretrievably and tragically.

And everyone associated with the process that has caused that loss should be deeply, deeply ashamed. – E.P.C.

DECISION TIME

In yesterday’s column, we crystal-balled the possible outcome of next week’s “forced vote” on the College Employer Council’s “final” (or, at least, most recent) contract settlement offer to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

Today, we’ll examine how the faculty members may be mulling over the terms of the proposed deal as they prepare to cast their electronic “Yeas” or “Nays”.

From the idealistic, “perfect world” perspective, we suppose some may be asking themselves if the offer delivers every single item they had sought when the negotiation process was launched many months ago: a healthy raise, tremendous improvements to benefits, much better work-conditions, terms-of-employment change, and maybe even far-reaching societal and economic impact.

From the pragmatic, “real world” perspective, their ruminations may be somewhat different. “Is it a good deal?” “Is it a good enough deal?” “Even if it doesn’t achieve everything we set out to secure, has it made some inroads towards our goals?” “Have we won more than we’ve lost?” “Is this package worth the fight that we have put up to-date?”

Here’s another matter to mull …

… After months of talks (these negotiations actually started in the summer), and four weeks on the picket-line, this is the first, definitive, here-it-is-in-black-and-white, firm offer that has been placed in front of the membership. Not rumours. Not possible solutions to issues. Not maybes.

It is a “bird in the hand”. Is it worth “two in the bush”? …

… “The two in the bush” being the unknown commodities of what may come after a rejection of this offer.

If negotiations have to recommence, they may not, necessarily, start off from the terms of this most recently developed package, to see what could be added from it or deleted from it. Each side – both sides – could come up with entirely different positions, terms and demands, and start the entire process over again from “square one”.

In that case, we might be looking at a work-stoppage of even longer duration, as what we thought were hashed-out issues are rehashed, until Offer 2.0 is finally prepared for another thumbs-up/thumbs-down vote.

… Or …

If this offer is rejected, does the provincial government finally step in and say, “Enough!”, legislate an end to the strike, and impose its own settlement – on its own terms, or by appointing an arbitrator to dictate a settlement.

That is really a mysterious “bird in the bush”, and a freakin’ gigantic one, because there is no telling what terms might be applied in that scenario. It might, in fact, just be a year-or-two-long extension of the previously existing contract, with no changes to anything in the form of improvements to benefits or conditions-of-employment.

The vote will entail a straight-forward “Yea?” or “Nay?”.

But we’re guessing that, as they wrestle with their balloting intentions during the lead-up to the November 14-16 vote, faculty members may be gauging the material before them with five evaluations in mind: Great? Good? Good enough? Lousy? Hell No?

THIS IS WHAT THEY’RE VOTING ON

FYI for Students: Here are the “highlights” of the College Employer Council’s offer that will be the subject of the “forced” vote on November 14-16. The full text of the deal (all of the legalistic contract language) can be found at http://www.stclaircollege.ca/facultyworkstoppage/docs/2017-11-06-Management-Offer.pdf

Wage Increases

Year 1 – 1.75% (Effective Date of Ratification)

Year 2 – 2.00% (October 1, 2018)

Year 3 – 2.00% (October 1, 2019)

Year 4 – 2.00% (October 1, 2020)

New maximum salary of $115,378 will be in place by October 1, 2020.

New maximum hourly rate for partial-load employees of $154.26 by October 1, 2020.

In addition to the above, further improve partial-load employees’ salaries by increasing the speed with which they progress through the salary grid (Article 26.10 C)

Benefits

- Add Social Workers and Psychotherapists to the list of paramedical providers;

- Increase combined maximum annual coverage for all covered paramedical services from $1,500 to $2,000;

- Improved parental & pregnancy leave provisions.

Staffing and Workload Proposals

- Require Colleges to give preference to creating full-time jobs instead of partial-load or sessional jobs (Article 2);

- Give partial-load employees the same rights as full-time faculty to compete for full-time jobs (Article 27.11 B);

- Enhance priority hiring rights for partial-load employees to improve their job security (Article 26.10);

- Allow the Union to object to any staffing decision and let an independent arbitrator decide if it is appropriate (Article 2);

- Reduce the need to use part-time employees by allowing teachers more flexibility to complete the teaching of a course that extends beyond the normal weekly limits (Article 11.01 B 1);

- Allow teachers more flexibility to work overtime if they wish to do so (Article 11.01 J 1);

- Ensure student accommodation requirements can be addressed when assigning workload (Article 11.02 C 2).

Academic Freedom

- Ensure every college has an academic freedom policy that reflects each college’s commitment to academic excellence (Letter Re: Academic Freedom).

Government Task Force

- Agreed to request that the government establish a Task Force to explore and develop recommendations on key issues, including staffing models, governance structures, funding requirements and accessibility issues to improve student success (Letter Re: Ontario Public Colleges: the Next 50 Years).

Other Proposals

- Ensure compliance with Bill 148 (New Letter Re: Bill 148 Issues);

- Require the parties to discuss Intellectual Property issues at the provincial level (Letter Re: Intellectual Property);

- Establish a provincial joint committee to review the class definition of Counsellors (New Letter Re: Counsellor Class Definition) recognizing the changing profile of the learners;

- Provide greater flexibility to increase the starting salary of new hires (Classification Plans).

ARTICLE 19 – OTHER INSURANCE PLANS

Extended Health Plan

19.01 A The College shall pay 100% of the billed premium of the Extended Health Plan for employees covered thereby and subject to the eligibility requirements of the Plan. The Extended Health Plan shall provide for a combined maximum annual coverage for all covered paramedical services of $1,500. Effective [month following the date of ratification], the Extended Health Plan shall provide for a combined maximum annual coverage for all covered paramedical services of $2,000.

ADDITIONAL COVERAGE

[Effective (month following the date of ratification), amend the extended health plan to include Social Workers and Psychotherapists to the list of paramedical providers.]
 

UNION POSITION

And, also FYI for Students … On November 9, OPSEU published an “article-by-article” analysis of the Council’s offer versus its own proposed deal. The full PDF of that can be found at https://opseu.org/news/college-faculty-comparison-management-and-union-offers. Here is the preambled overview of that document, from OPSEU’s website:

Management’s offer contains serious concessions that would:

• Allow the Council to avoid applying Bill 148’s equal pay for equal work provisions to partial-load.

• Gut Article 2 and impair the ability of the union to create more full-time positions.

• Weaken workload protections to allow for unlimited overtime and unlimited teaching weeks.

• Allow management to narrow the scope of faculty professional development, to deny PD, and to micro-manage it.

• Reduce the credit that faculty get for postsecondary education when calculating starting salary.

• Allow for partial-load coordinators to be paid less.

• Include an “Academic Freedom” letter of understanding that actually leaves faculty worse off in terms of academic decision-making.

• Create a Return-to-Work nightmare in which full-time and partial-load faculty will not be properly compensated for the work necessary to complete the semester.

Both offers also contain items agreed-to by the Council and the Union, including significant gains around partial-load seniority, benefits, the impact of student accommodations on workload, and the Provincial Joint Task Force that will examine collegial governance, faculty complement, precarious work, and intellectual property.

Accepting management’s offer would mean unprecedented concessions in our Collective Agreement.

These are changes to our CA’s most important Articles that we would never get back. It would also mean that the gains the Union has been able to bargain for partial-load would be completely undermined. If we accept, then a four-week strike, a four-year mobilization, and a province-wide movement for the rights of precarious workers would have all been for nothing.

Voting NO on management’s offer will enable faculty to win historic gains for partial-load, full-time faculty complement, and academic freedom. It will change the college system forever, and improve the working conditions of all future faculty, and the quality of learning for all future students.

"STAND WITH STUDENTS"

St. Clair students who rallied with faculty on Cabana Road on Thursday are part of a province-wide campaign called "Stand With Students". It provides this info about its plans and platform:

Province Wide Student Rally: the 14th, 15th & 16th, on local college campuses to make our issues as students heard. It is important that students are unified in our goal for this rally. At this time, this is our "platform":

Post-Secondary Students Issues:
- Compensation for lost time (4 weeks of our lives have been wasted)
- Reimbursement of Fees Paid (Including tuition, SA fees, parking passes, lockers, textbooks that were rented (not outright purchased) etc.)
- Students should have a say on how we go forward from this strike. Students are split on how WE want to see our semester saved. WE WANT THE OPTION TO CHOOSE, (depending on our college/campus, year, program, etc.) to EITHER;

a) Restart this semester in January (or if that is not possible, continue with next semester as planned and redo this semester in September.)

OR

b) Condense & complete this semester, FREE OF ALL CHARGES! Put the money we have paid in tuition for this semester towards next semester, or reimburse students leaving/graduating.

Concerns:
- If we restart our semester, will we lose the ability to submit the work we have completed thus far this semester? Or if we do re-submit assignments next semester, will we be flagged as plagiarizing our own work?
- If we condense the semester we will not be receiving the same education we paid for;
- We paid for 15 (or 7-1-7) weeks of a course, not 15 weeks of work condensed into 10 weeks.
- We paid to have a professor teach us in a classroom, with effective resources and learning tools, not to have to struggle teach ourselves in our school libraries with administrative staff trying to do a job they aren’t paid or educated to do.
- We paid for the opportunity to have in-class discussions, to do projects and presentations, in addition to the assignments and textbook modules we have been independently working on for the last month.

*Please note that fees outside of the colleges control will not be addressed at this time, as the living-costs incurred are both subjective and circumstantial. We are still looking a legal options for financial restitution however we all seem to agree the biggest concern for us as students is getting back into the classrooms, and receiving the education we paid for.**

FINAL WORD …

From the College Student Alliance (CSA), the advocacy group that represents the majority of college students in the province (St. Clair’s Student Representative Council and Thames Students Incorporated are CSA members):

CSA met with Minister (of Advanced Education and Skills Development Deb) Matthews and her team this morning (Thursday). We relayed as many student stories as time allowed, and the Minister was both receptive and concerned. We can assure you that your stories are being heard loud and clear.

We'd like to remind students that the Ministry is not responsible for getting a deal done. The responsibility still falls on OPSEU and the Council to get to the table and reach an agreement. However, the government has affirmed to us, and to students, that they are working diligently behind the scenes to ensure college students have options in regards to semester completion, withdrawals, and refunds. (Editor’s Note: You should see details about some of those items on the college’s “strike info webpage” soon too, as soon as the ministry confirms its end of the details.)

We will continue to work with the government to ensure proposed options work for students first, and we'll share updates as often as we can. We urge the Council and OPSEU to agree to binding arbitration, sit down this weekend, and have students back in the classroom by Monday. We are not calling for back-to-work legislation at this time.