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Part-time teachers looking for more rights

Margaret Sheridan | Interrobang | News | February 11th, 2008

After years of fighting, part-time teachers at Fanshawe, and across the province, are finally taking baby-steps towards gaining more rights.

“At the moment they don't have any rights,” said Paddy Musson, President of OPSEU Local 110. “They would like to get the same kind of treatment other people get within the organization. So what the part-timers are looking for is a right to have a union.”

At the moment a part-time employee is defined as someone working six hours or less, versus partial-load employees who work between seven and 12-hours a week at the college. That one-hour difference, according to Musson, means a lot when it comes to the kind of benefits the teachers receive.

“The seven hour employee earns a decent wage tied to the full-time wage scale,” explained Musson. “They get a rate that includes their marking and their preparation time for courses, they get all of the extended health benefits paid by the employer and get access to the other health benefits, and they get pay while they're sick.”

And what Musson believes that leads to is less loyalty from the part-timers since they're forced to follow the money, so to speak, to provide for their families- which can at times mean they leave the college to do so.

“It is unusual in Canada that anybody should be prevented in legislation to have the right to organize,” agreed Fanshawe's President, Howard Rundle. “So that's fine, I think there's nothing wrong with that at all, but the employees themselves have to decide by themselves if they're going to organize.

“If they do organize into a union, whether into an existing union or their own, then and only then will they have bargaining rights with the college system and from that point on we'll have to bargain with them. We're still a fair ways away from that happening.”

And even if they do unionize, there's no way of determining now how the union would operate. The full-time faculty are represented by the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union which negotiates centrally from Toronto. In other words, the salary and working condition negotiations themselves do not happen at Fanshawe, they in fact happen on an Ontario-wide basis in the provinces capital.

Howard explained that this means that this centralized union doesn't always make everyone happy because they may pay different rates in Toronto and Ottawa than they do in North Bay or Kingston, so some locations may not like the centralized rates, which means that were a collective-bargaining agreement eventually reached, the colleges would require additional funding from the government to cover the costs.

“Ontario is either ninth or tenth in terms of funding,” said Roger Couvrette, the president of the provincial organization of part-timers and sessionals at a recent press conference at Fanshawe. “When the McGuinty government announced its intent (to allow bargaining) any news release sent out by college presidents said they understood it was needed, but that the government has to provide more funding.

“They need to get up to the national average in terms of funding- and that can't be up to the student.”

But Musson stressed that it's not usually money that drives the teachers to extreme measures, like striking.

“A teachers' decision to go on strike is rarely about money,” Musson explained. “In 1984 and 2006 it was about the workload and 1989 was about job security. What we saw were higher class sizes which meant there was less time for feedback and hands-on instruction which meant the quality of education was compromised.

“Colleges are special from universities, what we offer here is more applied, so if you take those two things out, what's left?”

The campaign needs 35 per cent of the part-time teachers signatures province-wide before April to ensure that they can organize prior to the upcoming September term.

“We're not suggesting we return to an era when it's only full-time,” concluded Couvrette. “The part-timer, that person, has a right to a salary equivalent to other people in their field as well as the same job security.”
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