Classes planned in event of strike
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) represents Fanshawe employees in a number of offices throughout the college, including the Office of the Registrar, the library and campus stores, the parking office and co-op services.
However, the college administration has put together a contingency plan that will be implemented in the event of a strike and will work to keep essential services such as financial aid operational. Reassigning administrative staff that are not part of the bargaining unit and prioritizing student services are both possible measures.
“It would be foolish not to have a plan in a situation such as this,” said Emily Marcoccia, Director of Marketing and Communications at Fanshawe. “We will handle the situation to the best of our ability.”
A strike will result in these areas functioning without most of their staff. Students looking to register or change courses and programs, collect financial aid and get student ID cards, among a host of other tasks, will face a tremendous backlog and long line-ups. There is also expected to be major waits at the bookstore, and little or no computer and network maintenance. Contract employees such as those in security and food services will not be affected by a strike vote.
The College Compensation and Appointment Council, which is the bargaining agent handling the negotiations, will make the final decision whether colleges across the province will continue classes. But if the Council decides to leave the decision to the schools, Fanshawe will plan to remain open.
This strike will be more detrimental to college functioning than the last strike, in 1979, due to the widespread use of computers and technology, according to Rod Bemister, Chair of the union bargaining team. “If the system goes down, it will be hard for the colleges to function,” he stated in a recent press release.
Marcoccia agreed that technology plays a bigger part in strike situations today, but it will also be a useful tool for getting information out quickly to the students. The key message that will be sent to students is to respect the support staff. They will be advised on crossing picket lines, in addition to which services are operating and at what capacity.
OPSEU is asking for a number of changes to the proposed contract, including a four per cent wage increase, a shorter contract — the current proposal is four years, which has never been agreed to — and recognition of the services that the support staff provides.
“In short, we are looking for respect, recognition and reward for the work that we do at the college,” said Local 109 Chief Stewart Marg Rae. “Support staff are always the ones left behind, and we do not believe that should happen because of the vital role we play at the college.”
Support for the strike is reported as 90.7 per cent agreeing to strike if a solution cannot be found on August 30.
“Over the last few weeks I have been stopped by many [union] members and there is one common feeling;” Rae said. “They hope that we reach an agreement and do not have to take job action, but they are willing to strike if needed to get what they deserve.”
The college shares the unions desire to find a solution without strike action, highlighting that the students are the focus for the duration of the strike.
“The last thing we want to do is hurt our working relationship,” Marcoccia added, “and in the event of a strike we will manage in the spirit of good relations. But our first obligation is to provide learning. “Students will be the key focus for the duration of the strike.”
For up-to-date information, students can access a link through the Fanshawe website at www.fanshawec.ca or by calling a hotline at 452-4277. Presumably there will also be updates through local media.