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.

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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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