Professors at both Cambrian College and Collège Boréal are among 12,000 Ontario public college faculty who hit the picket lines Monday morning, suspending classes at colleges across the province.
“It's not unexpected,” said David Fasciano, president of OPSEU Local 673, which represents about 120 full-time and part-time faculty at Collège Boréal.
“Right from the start in July, when negotiations started, there was no willingness from the management side to even address any of our key issues.”
The strike started on the same day as Laurentian University students returned to the classroom after being off for more than two weeks due to a faculty strike there, as well as the fall reading week.
When asked what faculty have to say to students, Fasciano said they're fighting for their quality of education. “We hope to get back in the classroom with them as soon as possible,” he said.
On Saturday, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) presented the College Employer Council with what it's calling a streamlined offer representing the “bare minimum” it considers to be fair.
“We carefully crafted a proposal that responded to council’s concerns about costs in a fair and reasonable way,” said JP Hornick, chair of the union bargaining team, in the press release.
“Unfortunately, council refused to agree on even the no-cost items, such as longer contracts for contract faculty and academic freedom.
“This leaves us with no choice but to withdraw our services until such time as our employer is ready to negotiate seriously.”
Hornick said the colleges are committed to a “Walmart model of education” based on reducing the role of full-time faculty and exploiting underpaid contract workers who have no job security beyond one semester.
Many of them non-unionized, these types of workers now make up a high proportion of Ontario college faculty, including 84 per cent at Collège Boréal, according to Fasciano.
Nina Naumenko, president of OPSEU Local 655, which represents 185 full-time and 47 part-time Cambrian College faculty, said the union is looking for a 50-50 ratio of full-time to part-time workers.
OPSEU also wants better wages and seniority rights for part-time workers, as well as academic freedom for all college faculty.
"If we're going to have part-time, casual professors, we'd like them to have some stability,” Naumenko said.
College Employer Council spokesperson Sonia Del Missier (who, by the way, recently retired as a senior administrator at Cambrian) said in a press release the strike is “completely unnecessary and unfair” to college students.
The council, representing Ontario's 24 community colleges at the bargaining table, presented the union with what it called its final offer last week.
“We should have had a deal based on our final offer,” she said.
“It is comparable to, or better than, recent public-sector settlements with teachers, college support staff, hospital professionals, and Ontario public servants – most of which were negotiated by OPSEU.
“The fastest way to resolve the strike is for the union to accept the colleges' final offer, or, at the very least, put the colleges' final offer forward to its members for a vote."
The colleges cannot accept the union's demands that would ultimately add more than $250 million to annual costs, eliminate thousands of contract faculty jobs and jeopardize the quality of college programs, the press release said.
Faculty were offered a 7.75 per cent salary increase, enhanced benefits and no concessions, the College Employer Council said last week.
Both Cambrian College and Collège Boréal have published information about what students should expect during the strike on their respective websites.
“Please know that no Ontario college student has ever lost a year because of a strike,” said a press release issued Sunday by Collège Boréal.
“Boréal is committed to the success of its students and will ensure that they will have the opportunity to complete their year of studies.”