A voice from north of the 401…
This letter came across our desk from Neal McNare from Northern College (local 653), which is not only North of the 401, but stretches from Lake Temiskaming all the way up to Moosonee. It is his attempt to distill the information that we have and that we need to share with our members as we move forward.
Dear OPSEU Local xxx Members,
We fully understand your confusion and frustration with the events today. Please know that your bargaining team is working on its communications and will present its central message and response tomorrow. The goal will be to get the CEC back to the table to finish the negotiations. In an attempt to answer some of your questions now, I have put together the following. Please understand that this is my interpretation based on hearing today's conference call and reading through the CEC's offer (attached). This is not an official statement from the team, and I defer to whatever statements they release tomorrow.
The Council started the bargaining last week with the same bad offer they left with. Nevertheless, the union team engaged and slowly started to see some progress. The union modified its stance significantly on a few issues, and the CEC indicated they would remove the concessions that they were demanding. Agreement was reached to establish a Provincial Task Force that seemed to have some teeth and would address the staffing complement issue (50/50 ratio demand).
As of Sunday night, they had the no-cost academic freedom issue to deal with, and salary which would not be a sticking point. The union team felt that a deal could be reached today. Instead, the CEC came to the table refusing to discuss anything around academic freedom and put forward a "letter of understanding" that, when you read it carefully will do nothing for giving faculty any more control over academic decision making. They combined that with the concessions around staffing complement (Provincial Task Force), kept all of the concessions they had promised to remove, and rolled that into their new offer. They then walked away from the table saying would put the offer directly to a members vote. This is the very definition of bad faith bargaining.
How long will a vote take?
That is difficult to answer but most estimates are 5 -10 days. There are many details to work out. I am not clear on how much control the union has in some of the details such as voting locations and methods.
Will we stay out on strike during the vote?
Yes. There is no other option. The union cannot call off a strike when there is no negotiated agreement. To go back to work and run classes for a week or two while voting logistics are worked out would remove all pressure on the Colleges. We all want to be back in the classroom and helping our students, but those would be terrible circumstances under which to return. The council will try to play this up in the media as the union prolonging the strike, but make no mistake, they are the ones prolonging things. This could have been wrapped up today had they been willing to negotiate in earnest. If they were going to do a forced offer vote, the time was weeks ago, not now.
Is this really just about Academic Freedom?
No, it is also about the concessions in the offer as explained below. However, academic freedom should not be dismissed as a minor issue. This is about gaining some control over academic decisions in our courses. That includes having a say in evaluation methods, delivery methods, final marks, textbook selection, course design and content etc... Currently management has all the final decision making power. I know that many of us generally get to make some of these decisions, but remember this is always "at the pleasure of management". Your professional opinion on academic matters can be overridden at any time and for any reason by your supervisor. I know of many cases where managers applied pressure to change final grades, and others where final grades have been changed without the professor's knowledge and outside of any formal grade appeal. We have no say or input into delivery modes (online, hybrid etc...). Evaluation factors on SWF's are often changed arbitrarily. Faculty have been directed to switch to automated tests in many courses. These decisions should not be exclusively in the hands of management. Academic managers often have no prior background in education or teaching experience, and they are not experts in, or even knowledgeable about, the subject matter being taught.
Keep in mind the CEC has a habit of treating every proposal from the union as a demand that is set in stone. All union proposals, including those around academic freedom, have been put forward as a bargaining position, not a take it or leave it ultimatum. We are not asking for exclusive and absolute control, but at least an equal say in these matters. As it stands, they are the ones with exclusive control.
Doesn't this offer address academic freedom?
The "letter of understanding" on academic freedom addresses only the 'freedom of expression' aspect, and then limits it to topics that are "pertinent to the achievement of the learning outcomes of the course". This actually places more restrictions on us than we currently have! It does nothing to address our role in academic decision making in our own courses or in the institution.
What concessions are in the offer?
- Weakening Article 2 by explicitly excluding Part-Time faculty and therefore having no limits or recourse to limiting the colleges' use of part-time employees
- Weakening Article 2 by removing the 'roll-over' language for sessional employees (article 2.03C)
- Adding language in Article 2 and in Article 11 that states that all contact hours are the same regardless of delivery mode - this will make it much more difficult to ever get any language for extra workload recognition for online or hybrid course delivery.
- Removing overtime limits for full-time faculty which will further reduce full-time numbers and increase stress on full-time employees
- Increasing management control over faculty PD
- Restricting our rights to free expression
This is a bad offer. But of equal importance to the substance of the offer is how we got here. Through this entire process the CEC, at the direction of the college presidents, has demonstrated a complete lack of respect for the bargaining process and you, the faculty, who ARE the union. They have ignored our very legitimate requests to address issues we see as detrimental to the future of education quality in Ontario Colleges. This latest action, which callously attempts to pit faculty versus students, and faculty versus each other, cannot be rewarded with a 'yes' vote, nor with an end to the work stoppage.
There is still a chance to get a solution at the table. Keep up the pressure: contact your MPP, the Premier and the Minister and inform them of the situation and demand action. There was no reason for the Council to walk away from the table, they should be sent back to finish the job. There is no reason for this delay and prolongation of the strike other than to try and make us look bad and cause division within the ranks.
This is not the time to give up.