On Campus

Union torn over strike vote results

Student groups, faculty urge bargaining teams back to the table

After a strike mandate vote found the majority of college faculty represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union in favour of striking, the union and dissenting faculty are at odds with the significance of the vote.

Yesterday unofficial results showed 75 per cent of full-time academic staff voted 57 per cent in favour of a strike and 43 per cent against. The majority at Six of the 24 Ontario colleges included in the collective bargaining unit voted against a strike. These schools were Algonquin, Conestoga, Fanshawe, Georgian, Humber, and St. Lawrence.

OPSEU represents 9,000 college teachers, counselors and librarians at all of Ontario’s 24 community colleges.

Following these results, OPSEU posted a press release on their website quoting president Warren Thomas. “Our members have delivered a clear statement,” Thomas is quoted as saying of the vote, which the release calls a “show of province-wide support.”

But St. Lawrence business professor William Tennant, who created the website stopthestrike.net to urge faculty to vote “no” to the Jan. 13 vote, said the strike does not reflect the unified voice Thomas says it does. “We are somewhat disappointed with the provincial results,” Tennant said via e-mail. “Yet at the same time the results do indicate there is a serious split in the ranks.” Despite Thomas’ optimism, Tennant cited the 43 per cent vote against the strike mandate, which created just a small majority in favour.

Of the valid votes tallied, the six college faculties who voted in majority “no” account for a third of all valid votes (“yes” and no”) of the 24 colleges. While these colleges may now be mandated to strike, if a strike does occur, it is by no means “clear” that Ontario’s colleges are completely onboard.

Meanwhile, among the rhetoric, Tyler Charlebois, director of advocacy for the College Students Alliance, said the CSA is concerned about making sure students have all the facts. He said they are moving forward with “very pointed communications to students” to inform them about the results of the vote and what that means for them.

He said the CSA also wants to ensure learning in the classroom continues as normal. “Its really important to be respectful, not only of the faculty but of the other students in your classroom,” he said. The CSA wants to encourage students to leave talk of a strike out of the classroom so as not to disrupt learning.

As the meager turnout of a student-planned walkout showed, perhaps students are serious about business-as-usual and continuing the classes they fear may be cancelled come mid-February. Both the Charlebois and Tennant said students and faculty are pushing for now is to get both bargaining teams back to the negotiation table to find an agreement and avoid a work stoppage.

“What we are trying to do in this early stage in the aftermath of the vote is to emphasize the need to get back to the table and settle now, so we don’t have to deal with the many challenges in exercising future options during a strike,” Tennant said.

These “future options” Tennant is referring to include the possibility that individual colleges may still provide work for faculty who chose to cross the picket line. After a 2008 amendment to the Collective Colleges Bargaining Act, faculty are now allowed to cross the picket line to work if a college chooses to maintain operations. If enough faculty expressed they were willing to work throughout a strike, the college may be able to keep some programs running. But, Charlebois said, students and the Alliance hope a strike can be avoided entirely.

500,000 full and part-time students would be affected by a strike. The last time Ontario college faculty went on strike was 2006, where schools saw 21 days of work stoppage.

What’s the buzz around your school concerning the strike? E-mail me at jenniferpagliaro[at]gmail.com or leave a comment below.