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On Wednesday, Oct. 11, the College Employer Council walked away from the bargaining table after submitting a final offer that was aptly referred to by OPSEU as “a poisoned pill.” Failing to address the faculty’s key demands of the ratio of full-time to contract faculty, job security for partial-load faculty, and academic freedom in regards to academic decision-making, the council put forward an offer that increases contract faculty, reduces full-time faculty, encourages outsourcing, and reduces starting salaries.

The faculty had released a final offer in an effort to avert the strike. The proposal focused on improving the education quality for students and providing fair working conditions for faculty. The chair of the bargaining team for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, J.P. Hornick, said, “Faculty want to be back in their classrooms on Monday, not on the picket line. We urge council to see this offer [for] what it is: a fair path to a settlement that is acceptable to both sides.” The first demand is a 50:50 ratio of full-time to contract faculty, ensuring stability and flexibility for students and staff. The second is job security for partial-load faculty, where contracts are issued three weeks in advance of the semester so they are better able to review and reflect course material. They are also seeking progression on the salary schedule for partial-load faculty, so as to reflect all the work done in the academic year. Finally, the faculty has demanded increased academic freedom, which allows faculty and students to make important decisions about their courses, research and professional activity. Currently, George Brown College is run by a uniquely undemocratic structure – a Board of Governors comprised of seventeen individuals.  Only four of these are elected representatives, the other twelve being appointed. Notably, these twelve cannot be faculty members or students. Vital decisions are being made by an appointed body who have likely never set foot into the classrooms they make decisions for. Both staff and students feel the repercussions of these decisions.

Students are well aware of the drawbacks of having part-time or contract faculty. These professors cannot possibly provide an adequate learning experience when they are fresh to the program, worried about their job security (and in many cases seeking or employed in a second job), and uncertain of being rehired the next semester. Contract faculty are also limited to teaching contract hours, meaning they are not paid for any of the time they spend on prep work, grading, or meeting with students outside of class hours to provide additional support. The council has already stated that they would have no problem running entire programs with only part-time staff, and would create a new type of contract work called “temporary full-time,” where the faculty would be doing full-time work while being paid the partial-load rate. Students have already begun to see the negative effects on the quality of education with the current set up, and it is clear that this type of employment is unsustainable and will continue to deteriorate the quality of education. Students should stand in solidarity with the striking faculty as they fight not only for better work conditions for themselves, but to improve the quality of education for their students.

Already, we have seen some student solidarity efforts despite the smear campaign being conducted against the college faculty. The mainstream media have been incredibly aggressive against faculty in this strike, and the management has already developed a statement claiming that the strike is “completely unnecessary and unfair to hundreds of thousands of students.” These words are coming from the same people that continue to raise tuition fees and diminish vital services by contracting out and privatizing, if not all together cutting, front-line services. The management has made it clear that they are not willing to consider the offers put forward by the union, having called off negotiations four hours before the deadline and maintaining that their final offer is fair—an offer that is hoping to establish a “Walmart style of education.”

Students, we extend an appeal for you to join your striking faculty on the picket lines. Already we have seen austerity measures and cuts to social programs across the board—we cannot allow education to be slashed the same way. This fight is not just for the college faculty—it is for the students, many of whom are also workers, and concerns what type of workforce they will be entering into.

As of today, it has been almost a week since this offer was rejected and the faculty decided to strike. We present here our interview of two members of the George Brown Faculty, in order to learn more about the working conditions at the university and their hopes for this struggle:

Sylvia Morrison, Part-Time Professor, Assaulted Women and Children Counsellor Advocate Program

What are the most important issues for this strike?

The most important issues that we are talking about are, first of all, the contracts that part-time/contract faculty have, where at the end of each semester, part-time or partial-load don’t know for sure whether or not they will be hired for the next semester.

The other piece is around making decisions and having student voice and faculty voice engaged in the decisions that are being made in the college that impact everybody. Management is not in the classroom. Faculty and students are in the classroom, and I think that is it important that our voices are part of the decisions that impact the way that we teach, the material that we teach, for how long we teach, and the way classrooms are designed.

We have heard that one of the issues in the strike is that workers have very little say in how the colleges are run. For example, at George Brown College, 12 out of 17 of the Board of Governors are appointed, with only four being elected. How do you feel the lack of democratic control of the college affects working and learning conditions?

The disconnect is between management and what happens in the classroom. Students come to the institution for their education and their career. Faculty are in the institution for education and their own career as well. For management its seems the main focus is the bottom line. So there’s a disconnect between what management wants, and what faculty and students want.

What are you hoping the outcome of this strike is going to be?

I am honestly hoping that the council and the union come back to the table. I know that they won’t agree on every single thing. But they will at least hear and find some ways of finding common ground and meeting some of those needs. Treat our representatives with the respect they deserve, sit at the table and hammer it out until you arrive at something that works for everyone. I’m really hoping that they can do that so I can get back to the classroom soon, because honestly, I love teaching.

Management at the colleges and the provincial government are trying to blame faculty for the inconveniences caused to students due to the strike. The mainstream media has also been repeating this argument. What is your message to college students?

My message to college students is that I’ve been a student, and I know how this impacts students. I am doing this today not just for my paycheck. I do this because I love teaching, and because the students in my class will be the workers of tomorrow, Some of them are workers right now. A win for us today is a win for them tomorrow. I don’t want my students to have to fight for the same things I am fighting for right now. So I am fighting today so that they will have a different fight tomorrow. And I want to be in the classroom as badly as they want to be there. It’s not so much about the money. I could go find a job somewhere and make some money if this were about money. But this is important to me. I want my students to know that I care about their education, and that I care about our future.

Kathleen Wynne was supposed to be the “education premier,” yet we are seeing the Liberal government giving corporate tax breaks while underfunding education. We are seeing austerity measures across the board. How do you think this ties into this struggle?

It ties in because it goes to show where their priority is. Tax breaks are given to a certain sector. When companies get tax breaks it means there’s more to their bottom line. Faculty at the college are supposed to be preparing folks for their work field. We are only asking for some form of security to level the playing field. That doesn’t make any sense to them, because if it made sense to them they would do something. It goes to show that their priority is business, whereas our business is education. Capitalism trumps every time. That’s what this is about.

In Europe and increasingly in North America we are seeing the capitalist system in crisis, and the ruling class is placing the consequences of this on the shoulder of the working class through austerity measures and cuts to social programs. As a result, many workers and youth are looking to socialism as an alternative to austerity and capitalism. Do you think socialism is a relevant idea for college faculty and other workers who are fighting back against cuts and precarious employment?

Well, in my world, socialism is always better than capitalism. My socialist view is really about looking out for the good of everyone, especially the working class. If we're taking care of the working class, capitalists never like that because the way that the capitalists benefit and prosper is on the back of the working class. So socialism would make sense of course, for workers at the college, for faculty, for me.

Is there any advice from this struggle you would like to offer to other trade union activists?

Yeah, support your union. Support your union, give your union feedback, tell them what’s important to you, and trust them in the negotiations.

JP. Hornick, Member of College Faculty Bargaining Team, Full-Time Professor, Labour Studies

What are the most important issues in this strike for you?

The most important issues are issues that are similar to those facing workers across many sectors right now, and that’s around quality and fairness. We believe faculty should have a stronger voice in academic decision making for the colleges and should do so in a balance between faculty, admin and students. In addition to that, we need fairness for our contract workers. Nearly three out of four faculty in the college system are non-full-time, and that does a lot to destabilize the system. It is also harder for them to concentrate on their classroom because they need to reapply for their job every four months, and they often have to hold multiple jobs at different colleges to get by. We want to see equal pay for equal work and we want to see better job security provisions for them.

The third big issue for us is about faculty complement. What we want to see is a balance of 50 per cent full-time to 50 per cent non-full-time faculty in the college system.

What sort of conditions would you envision for part-time employment?

We want their full workload to be calculated. Right now they’re only paid for time in the classroom. We want them paid for preparation and evaluation time. We also want to see them have one-year contracts rather than four-month contracts, and we want to see better progression for them up the pay grid for seniority. Right now it can take them up to three years to earn one year of seniority on the pay grid.

What is the mood in the union and amongst union members and on the picket line?

Fantastic. I was just at a picket at the George Brown Waterfront campus where it's predominantly nursing, health sciences and general education faculty. They just held a protest outside of where Prime Minister Trudeau, Premier Wynne and John Tory were at a press conference. We were outside making sure they could hear the importance of the issues facing faculty today. We had students coming out on the line to join us all across the province. We’ve had over 3,500 letters of support sent to all 24 college presidents, the Premier and Deputy Premier. We’ve seen student petitions for tuition rebates exploding. It’s all just really good activism, but there’s also a very clear indication that people understand these issues and are behind them.

We have heard that one of the issues in the strike is that workers have very little say in how the colleges are run. For example, at George Brown College, 12 out of 17 of the Board of Governors are appointed, with only four being elected. How do you think this undemocratic structure should be changed?

Well, we’re actually talking with various MPPs about how governance is done in the college, and we think that there needs to be a balance. The Board of Governors is a uniquely undemocratic structure. The president appoints the board, and the board decides the president’s compensation and hires the next president as the current one leaves. It’s a pretty closed circle. What we’re looking for is a collegial governance model for academic decisions in which faculty, administrators, and students are all represented in something like the university senate systems that already exists. One of our colleges actually has an academic senate, and that’s Sheridan College, and it hasn’t reduced their ability to be effective at all.

Management at the colleges and the provincial government are trying to blame faculty for the inconveniences caused to students due to the strike. The mainstream media has also been repeating this argument. What is your message to college students?

My message to students is to come out to the line and join the faculty. These are the people you’re in classes with anyways. It’s been a fascinating process these past few days, because my cell number is on every single press release that goes out. I had been fully prepared for a slew of angry phone calls from students, from parents, from people who just want to have a say about how we shouldn’t be out on the picket lines. But that hasn’t happened. Instead we’ve received messages of support, and even when people call me up really angry, it takes about two minutes of talking with them about the issues that we’re actually fighting for to change their minds. These are really easy issues for people to understand, and students have been feeling the effects of these things. And so they come out and back us.

You mentioned some angry calls.  I’m imagining angry parents who are paying tuition and upset that the services they’re paying for are being interrupted. I was wondering, how have you found yourself navigating that situation?

I just remind them that the only people who aren’t taking a hit in this are the administrators, and  that these are the same people, who back in December, went to the government saying they don’t have money to make the improvement to front-line services, but last year they were there knocking on the government’s door looking for 20-50 per cent raises for themselves.

It’s a little bit disingenuous for them to claim there’s no money in the system when there’s been a 56 per cent increase in the level of administration over the last 10 years. There hasn’t been that same increase in faculty, yet there has been a significant increase in students. The college system is chronically underfunded. We know that there needs to be more money in the system. The money they do have is being put into buildings, they’re putting it into raises for themselves, they’re putting it into an expanding administration. That’s not working for students, and it's having really negative impacts on the quality of education.

Kathleen Wynne was supposed to be the “education premier”, yet we are seeing the Liberal government giving corporate tax breaks while underfunding education. We are seeing austerity measures across the board. How do you think this ties into this struggle?

I think that it’s clear that what’s happening in public services across the board is the result of a neoliberal agenda to privatize public services, and the impact of that is being felt by the very people who rely on these services for education, healthcare, community supports, etc. And so we have to fight this agenda where we can. College faculty have a responsibility to stand up and play our part in trying to beat back an agenda that will actually cut those services further.

When you look at Toronto in particular there has been an uptick in strikes and workers’ militancy over the last year or so that’s been encouraging to watch—the Pearson strike, the zoo workers, even the kitchen workers—

I think what we’re going to see finally is that we’re making some of these connections strongly between students and workers and it’s gonna be a shift for the predominant union movements. The labour unions are starting to realize the need to fully support unorganized workers, step outside the typical bounds of their own membership, and make a push towards social justice unionism.

As a final question, we intend to participate tomorrow at the picket line to show our support and solidarity. I was wondering—what would you say to the socialist students who are participating in this contingent?

I would say you are welcome on our line at any time. Bring your chants and your noisemakers; bring your energy. I stand in solidarity with every student that joins us on that line, and we’ll be supporting you in the struggles going forward that students face around tuition costs, access to education, and supports when you’re in there. So we’ll be walking those lines with you too.