Stop the strike! - Macleans.ca
 

Stop the strike!

An Ontario college professor urges his colleagues to accept management’s final offer, and avoid a strike.


 

In my tenure as a professor in the School of Business at St. Lawrence College, I have been through three strikes. I have noticed a pattern occurring in the bargaining between the union and management: Negotiations fail. The union requests and gets a strike mandate. Management doesn’t budge. Faculty walk the picket line. Management still doesn’t budge. We are ordered back to work with legislation and negotiations go to binding arbitration. This could have been done in the first place without all the frustrations of a strike.

Related: For more coverage of this story, please see here.

Myself and a core group of professors who are advocating against a strike, proposed this to the union bargaining team before the strike vote of January 13. We were told binding arbitration was removed from the College Collective Bargaining Act (CCBA) of 2008. It is interesting that the union is now taking the position that negotiations should go to binding arbitration.

The real frustration of a strike is the fact that there is a third party affected. In normal labour disputes there are two parties; employees willing to sacrifice income and employers willing to sacrifice sales or market share. The challenge is to see which side can hold out the longest to obtain their desired results.

In our situation there is a third party: the students who have paid in advance for services. When there is a strike, to the students it seems that it’s the faculty who are withholding those services. The colleges have the money, they are innocent. The students are being denied the services, they are the victims; it is the faculty that are considered to be the guilty party. Once the strike is over, it is faculty that have to demand heavier work loads on students to catch up, again, the bad guys.

I and many other teachers across the system are fed up with this process. According to union news releases 15 out of 16 negotiations have had to go to a strike vote to get results and three actually resulted in work stoppages. The process has to change!

Apparently the two major issues still outstanding are academic freedom and workload formulas. Unlike universities that are developing abstract thinkers, the college system was created to develop Ontario’s workforce. Our programs are designed to meet other regulatory bodies’ requirements. Nurses must pass provincial examinations; tradesmen must meet provincial standards. Accountants must meet self-guiding standards established by Certified General Accountants. Credits in courses obtained in one college usually can be transferred to other programs in other colleges because the curriculum must meet provincial guidelines. The union is suggesting that teachers need complete academic freedom to create curriculum as they wish. Nice idea but not practical.

The reality is that I develop course outlines, choose textbooks, establish evaluation tools and deliver in a variety of ways including guest speakers and field trips. There’s no doubt in my mind that I have plenty of academic freedom.

On the issue of workload, the union will tell you it is about quality of education. First, it is management, and not the union that is held accountable for quality. The key performance indicators (KPI) are the accepted measure of quality for Ontario’s Colleges. They measure satisfaction levels of current students, graduates and the employers of our graduates. If a mere adjustment to an evaluation factor on a standardized workload formula (SWF) could make an improvement across the province on quality then all colleges would be tied for first when the results of the KPIs are announced!

The SWF is a guideline to establish fair workloads for faculty. It is not a science. No two weeks are the same. I might have two or three weeks with a lot of preparation and delivery with little evaluation and another week exactly the opposite.

What seems to be a sticking point for the union is that management wants some more flexibility to the SWF. It’s complicated but what management is saying is that no alteration to an individual faculty member’s SWF would take place unless there was agreement between the faculty member, the union and management. Can’t say that this will somehow have a negative impact on the individual faculty member.

The college bargaining team presented an offer and the union bargaining team rejected it. The proposal includes an increase to the original salary offer and reduces the term from four years to three. The reduction of the term of the contract was a major concession by the colleges. We have yet to see major concessions from the union side. The  Forty-three per cent of faculty who voted against a strike last month, were prepared to accept the terms and conditions that management put in place on November 18th.

The union refused to bring the offer to faculty. However the College Collective Bargaining Act of 2008 allows management to present its offer directly to faculty. The vote is to take place on Wednesday.

Faculty must accept this offer or we will be on strike. Management has nothing to lose. They will not accept binding arbitration. They have exercised every new option under the CCBA 2008. First, they imposed new terms and conditions. Second, they applied to the Labour Council to present their final offer, and third, they will remain open during a strike and allow faculty to work. This will destroy the union!

Bill Tennant is a professor in the School of Business at the Kingston campus of St. Lawrence College. He runs a website devoted to persuading his colleagues to avoid a strike at stopthestrike.net.


 
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Stop the strike!

  1. from an open letter to my colleagues:

    I’m thankful for the work that the Union has done on our behalf. I was pleased to serve as a shop steward in the 1990’s. I’ve participated in two strikes, which I fully supported – 1988 and 2006.

    In previous rounds of negotiations, the union kept us well informed about progress or the lack thereof. I felt I understood the arguments well before the contract expired. This time, not so.

    In September, at a welcome back meeting, I asked why we had had no updates on salary negotiations. As far as we knew, the opening union position was the current position — after 5 months of negotiations. The response was “Wait for the next negotiation news, due out any day”. No information in the September update. So, I emailed the local with my query. I received a reply in October.

    A few thoughts come to mind:

    * In 24 years, I’ve never worried about our lack of academic freedom.

    * Prior to the past two months, I haven’t had a single conversation about academic freedom.

    * Do I have any specific information about Professors whose academic freedom has been violated by management? No
    * Have I seen statistics about academic freedom abuses provincially? No

    But now, I’m faced with having to contribute 1500 to 2500 dollars to fight for academic freedom.

    Why do I say 1500 to 2500 dollars? Strike pay is 500 per week. That’s about half of what I’m netting. A strike will likely last a minimum of three weeks, maximum five weeks. McGuinty will “not interfere in collective bargaining” until the students’ semester is in jeopardy. So we’ll march around in the snow for four weeks. Then he’ll mandate us back to work and the issue will go to arbitration, which is the union’s end game. We’ll compress the lost 4 weeks into 2 and all will be well. Except the students won’t get a nickel of compensation for their two lost weeks or the disruption of their studies and extra living expenses incurred.

    Suppose we gain in arbitration everything the union deems essential. The extra half percentage point per year above management’s offer will net out to about $30 per month. At that rate, if we lose 1500 to 2500 in salary during the strike, it will take 5 to 7 years to break even.

  2. In response to Mr Tennant, I also have been a professor in the College system since the mid 1980s, and this is the third time I am facing a strike. Unlike Mr Tennant, I recognize very clearly the wages and benefits that I have enjoyed because these have been won through consecutive rounds of collective bargaining.

    If there is any doubt about how faculty would be treated without the collective bargaining power accrued through unionization, one has simply to consider the situation of part-time faculty within the college system in Ontario. These teachers are compensated only for the hours they spend in the classroom. There is no consideration of the work it takes to prepare a class, nor the time it takes to mark students’ work. The standard part time rate at the college where I work is $50/per hour. For those of you who feel this is generous compensation, consider how much time it would take for you to be ready to stand in front of an audience for three hours a week (at $150/week gross pay) and keep that audience both engaged and learning.

    Mr Tennant’s proposition regarding the goodwill of the employer is not supported by the experience of the part-time teachers within that very system.

    Of greater concern are the changes proposed in the current offer being made by the Colleges.

    These changes include a provision that allows the averaging of workload assignments over a two year period. Included in this provision are the removal of weekly hour caps (currently set at a 47 max), weekly teaching contact hours (set at 19 hours of classroom instruction), the number of courses a teacher can be asked to prepare over a workload period, and the number of sections the professor can be asked to teach.

    The current system includes a formula that considers the time it takes to prepare for each hour of class (a floating scale depending on familiarity with the course), and time for marking student assignments. We are also credited with 4 hours each week to respond to students outside of class time, and with 2 hours per week with time for general administrative duties. (Yes, these are also Mr Tennant’s working conditions.) All thresholds will be removed under the proposed averaging clause except for annual teaching contact hour and number of weeks taught. These two limits will be open to averaging over the life of the contract (2 years). Unlike the existing contract which prohibits placing a probationary teacher who is new to their job in an overload situation, the proposed changes have no protection for this group.

    There are other controversial clauses such as the removal of the right to an arbitrator evaluating whether a grievance is significant enough to merit review even though normal time limits have expired (not that arbitrators are now or have ever been a push-over in these sort of cases).

    Or the claim of supplementary life insurance (SLI) improvements when the individual pays for all SLI premiums.

    For parents and students within the College system in Ontario, remember who it is sharing their knowledge with you, helping you understand principles and develop skills, working with you when you are frustrated and want to quit — it is not the College management.

    I will agree with Mr Tennant on one point, most College teachers do not want to strike.

    We do not want to see our work with students undermined nor our relationship with students damaged.

    But we are also not willing to sacrifice the most vulnerable among us to a contractual change that undermines years of work toward creating the terms and conditions that have made our workplace into the environment Mr Tennant claims to have enjoyed over the past several decades.

  3. Under the proposed terms of the ‘Final’ offer, partial load maximum hourly rate is raised to $136.62…that’s right…$136.62 per hour!
    I think that covers prep and marking…!
    Do the math – that’s over $1600 per week for a 12 hour teaching schedule. Not bad for a part-time job!
    There are full-time faculty that do not earn that much.

  4. I have to wonder about colleagues like Mr. Tennant; he almost completely whitewashes the issues and relies on emotional rhetoric to argue for a contract that asks us to concede a whole lot while the colleges continue to grow and expand.

    Absent from this screed is any word re: the kinds of compensation the management continues to enjoy; have a look at what Mr. Tennant refuses to acknowledge:

    http://collegeprof.ca/2010/02/06/of-salaries-and-kings/

  5. “Comment by Bill Tennant on 8 February 2010:
    “Under the proposed terms of the ‘Final’ offer, partial load maximum hourly rate is raised to $136.62…that’s right…$136.62 per hour!
    I think that covers prep and marking…!
    Do the math – that’s over $1600 per week for a 12 hour teaching schedule. Not bad for a part-time job!
    There are full-time faculty that do not earn that much.”

    Truly Orwellian. Note how you don’t buttress this claim with evidence, and you completely ignore what it would take to earn that rate. Quite simply, it’s purely speculative, relying on probabilities instead of actualities. Not a word on class sizes or prep times.

    You betray yourself with each word, truly sad.

  6. Check it out for yourself…Article 26.04…grid is 26.10b.
    I think it would be better to have their rate divided into prep, contact and evaluation too…
    If we hadn’t started with 180 ‘demand’ items and focused on 5 – 10 key ones this would be a cause worth fighting for…
    Let’s sign the deal and change the process…!

  7. I was going to vote for the offer until I read this (you know what). Thanks Bill for convincing me to vote against, even if it results in a strike. Bill, I don’t know what you are thinking but it’s just not right. We and the students only have what we have because of hard negotiating and, yes, even strikes when necessary.

    You are paving a road with good intentions and you know where that will lead…..

  8. Lets look at the facts. If the college is sucessfull then the Faculty and students are successful. I have come from a non union shop working at the greatest steelmaker in Hamilton for 33 years. We never had issues. Even during recessions and work week cuts we understood the bottom line.The Employer never let us down or made us not feel part of the team. I agree with the article. Workplace academic freedom?? If I had any more freedom I would not have to show up! As a new full time faculty I must admit. The wages and satisfaction of the job far out weight the “Problems” Maybe it is time some faculty step back into the working world of being on call 24/7 two weeks vacation in the summer. Working night shifts, I know I am here because of a passion and it is pretty damm good. It is time that the Union and management better get out of the P*SSing contest and staring at each other and come to grips with the real economic situation. Maybe everyone wants to work in the automotive sector and not know when the “pink” slip shows up!
    We have it pretty damm good

  9. I vote for a strike. Don’t give in when things look difficult!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Why did the union pick a strike date that comes only a couple of days before reading week begins at most colleges? Won’t the colleges be thrilled not to have to pay their full-time faculty during reading week?

  11. Regarding the partial load hourly rate for faculty — M. Tennant, you forgot to mention that most part-time faculty are not hired under the partial-load definition (more than six but less than 12 classroom hours per week). You also neglect the ears it takes for someone to move up the partial load scale. No faculty member I know started at the rate you mention, and in all of the years I have been at my College there have only ever been one or two paid at the top rate.

    The fact is that most part-time faculty are hired under the part-time definition (0-6 hours or 13-20 or more), and make the lower rate.

    Perhaps we could move discussion away from misleading statements about ‘top salary rates’ with the implication that all faculty are at the top step of the salary scale — perhaps if Mr Tennant wishes to examine salary he could provide system or college average salary numbers as well as entry level thresholds. Then at least he would be providing a more balanced picture.

  12. I didn’t forget anything…Full-time faculty will have a new max. of $102,000. We have that thrown up to us all the time. Many are not there yet either and most are never hired at that level.
    The new maximum for partial-load is $136.62 per hour. They need a SWF just like us but we started with 180 ‘demands’. We should have had the opportunity to rationalize those to our top 10.
    This is one good one…
    We need to change the process so that demands come back to the members before we start negotiations…None of us knew what was being tabled at the negotiations.
    If we accept this offer now there will not be a strike and we only have 2 1/2 years to get it right.

  13. I would agree with Mr. Tennants statement that the colleges have nothing to lose. And this, in my opinion is the underlying problem with the this entire process. There needs to be REAL consequences for failure to negotiate.

    I believe the CCBA is flawed and every negotiation will result in the same situation. What is wrong with Binding Third Party arbitration (with no preconditions)? In theory the arbitrators should be impartial idividuals outside of the system who decides what a fair contract should be.

    I believe that the CCBA should be changed to allow us a 3 month negotiation period to formulate an agrrement after which we are bound by Binding Arbitration. Both sides will find parts of the arbitrated agreement they won’t like – perhaps it will give them motivation to seriously negotiate the next time around.

  14. Too much talk, not enough action. I’ve seen the worst in management and let me tell you, it isn’t pretty. I’ll vote to reject because I don’t to see these terrible, overpaid managers get any more power over me then they already have.

    I’m not afraid to strike if that’s what it takes to get a fair settlement.

    I’m not buying what Bill Tennent is selling, and no thinking college teacher should buy it either. We know where good intentions get us!

  15. Mr. Tennant, I challenge you to put your money where your mouth is.

    If the Colleges will get their way with the workload formula, I would like you to sign up for it and remain working under these conditions until you retire. If you promise that, and stick to it, only then what you say is credible.
    Will you do that Sir?

  16. Absolutely! This is a fantastic job…The workload formula is exactly as it was!!
    As far as Modified Workload Agreements it takes 3 parties to agree:
    The Manager
    The Faculty
    The Union
    If you don’t like it…Don’t sign it…
    What part of this do you not understand….?

  17. The Union is running scared right now. I’ve never seen: (1). a weaker strike mandate, (2). a stranger bargaining process than this one, and (3). more e-mails in my Inbox attempting to tell me how I should think.

    I am an adult and I refuse to have anyone think for me.

    I think this is a fair and reasonable offer. Let’s vote to accept today, and end this stupid waste of everyone’s time.

  18. Len McPhail 8 February 2010 …..friggin’ right, Sir!!!! Amen to that!!

    We have it DAMN GOOD and maybe those who think otherwise should get the h**l out of teaching and flip burgers for a living …..or freeze their a$$ off at the top of a hydro pole in mid-winter.

  19. I have worked at two colleges as part time faculty and also part time support staff over several years. Part time college workers have been denied the right to collective bargaining, and though we were finally given the opportunity to vote for representation, the ballot boxes have remained sealed. I don’t receive pay increases. My per hour pay rate is much less than others I work with, though I do the same work. The only reason I am treated differently is because my wages and working conditions were not negotiated by OPSEU. I would love to have all that has been offered to full time college workers.

  20. Pingback: Jane Campus Student Blog » Blog Archive » College Strike Vote: Results Stream

  21. If the Faculty don’t like the offer, I think it’s time they resign and attempt to get a similar paid position within their chosen field with the same benefits. Good luck with that.

    It’s very easy to criticize management and the more-than-generous offer when you’re being paid by the public purse. Much of the current faculty haven’t a clue what’s happening outside of their own primadonna worlds and regular citizens are tired of pandering to the spoiled teachers who think they know everything and deserve the world on a plate.

    Time to come off of cloud nine – you’re not that great – replacements CAN be made.

    It happened to teachers in Rhode Island and it should be possible here too.

    All teachers fired at Rhode Island school:
    (CNN) — A school board in Rhode Island has voted to fire all teachers at a struggling high school, a dramatic and controversial plan aimed at shoring up education in a poverty-ridden school district.

    On Tuesday night, the board approved the plan by Frances Gallo, superintendent at Central Falls School District, to discharge 88 teachers at Central Falls High School.

    The firings come over the district’s concern that teachers refused to spend more time with students to improve test scores.

    But a teachers’ union spokesman called the firings “drastic.”

    The spokesman also cited a 21 percent rise in reading scores and a 3 percent hike in math scores in two years.

    The terminations will go into effect in the next school year.

    Central Falls is one of the lowest-performing schools in Rhode Island.