Possibility of faculty strike looms


With the school year just underway, the one thing that's probably not on students' minds is that a majority of Fanshawe's faculty are working under a province-wide collective agreement that expired on August 31. Basically, if a new deal isn't reached — it might be time to strike.

The agreement that's currently in place affects 500 staff, which includes 370 full-time faculty along with partial-load faculty, counselors, librarians, and instructors. It does not include part-time faculty who are not covered by the union.

If a settlement and new agreement isn't drawn up soon, then the possibility of a walkout from faculty is a possibility at anytime during this school year. The faculty may also choose to continue working under the old collective agreement, until a new one is voted upon.

The last time faculty hit the picket lines was back in March 2006. It lasted 18 days and ended with forced arbitration. It also threw a wrench into the end of the academic year. Many students had to make up for lost time once they returned to class mere weeks before cramming for exams.

But don't get too alarmed. What we know now at press time is that bargaining is continuing. Negotiations actually began between Ontario colleges and the union this past June.

There are three main issues the union is hoping to address for this new agreement, said Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 110 president, Paddy Musson. The first issue is a workload formula that was established more than a decade ago and has had no revisions to it since then. It needs to be updated to conform to changes in education especially the various electronic methods of teaching that have emerged since then, said Musson. The employer has been resistant to this change since recent rounds of bargaining, she added.

The next issue is the hot-button issue of academic freedom, which gives teachers the right to have a say in their institution. Musson said their most recent collective agreement has not had any such language in regards to academic freedom whereas most other universities and colleges mention it in their respective agreements. Musson said that this currently ties the hands of many faculty members in certain programs from deciding how to evaluate their students properly.

“There is nothing that stops the employer from deciding that the method of evaluation for the course will be multiple choice, because that's the cheapest way to get marking done,” explained Musson.

“Many of our courses, to make them relevant to students, you really need to do a project-style of marking so that you give students assignments and you have to critique those assignments. You can't hand that over to a marker, it has to be done by the person who taught that course.”

It is pointless for many faculty to argue otherwise, she added.

“If there is any argument they decide, we get to offer our opinion but we don't have a say at the end of the day. It's totally in the hands of the administration and the administration doesn't have expertise in all disciplines,” she said. Musson said that they want to gain parity with colleagues in other universities and colleges across the country.

The final issue in the agreement is the treatment of part-time and partial load employees. According to a recently published “Negotiation News” newsletter from the OPSEU website: “Partial-load teachers are members of the academic bargaining unit who are assigned between seven and 12 teaching contact hours per week. Their assignable teaching hours are two-thirds of a possible full-time teaching load of 18 hours per week. Their actual workloads, rather than their teaching contact hours, are usually greater than two-thirds of a full-time assignment.”

In some cases, the workload of partial-load teachers can be equal to or more than that of full-time teachers. However, the “workload fomula” doesn't apply to those with partial-load status. The union is arguing that it should be for all teachers.

Lastly, there's still the issue of whether wages are part of the bargaining process, Musson said it's always relevant. What the union is asking for in terms of wages is that they should be compared to the maximum salary between the highest Ontario secondary school maximum and the lowest ceiling of university professors in the province. But wages have generally not been the sole issue in previous strikes, said Musson.

“It's not something I expect that we will ever strike over,” she said. “The employer knows however that if they decided to offer us nothing it would be very provocative however that's not our expectation.”

But now that the agreement has expired, anything is possible now if bargaining talks don't continue. But a strike is always a last resort.

“There's never a desire to go on strike...the last thing you ever want to do is end up on strike,” said Musson.