Students frustrated by Ontario college faculty strike mandate

TORONTO (CUP) — Fanshawe College student Darryl Bosma may be forced out of class as early as mid-February if Ontario's colleges can't reach a deal with the teaching staff union in their ongoing labour dispute.

“College teachers should be essential services,” said Bosma, a landscape design student in his last semester at Fanshawe.

“I'm sure that somewhere someone is not happy with what they are receiving in pay, but I don't think you will ever stop that. Who wouldn't want more money for doing less work? Unfortunately, that's not how life works,” he said.

Teaching staff at Ontario's 24 colleges gave their bargaining group a strike mandate should contract negotiations break down again. Fifty-seven per cent of the province's 9,000 college faculty voted in favour of the strike mandate earlier this month.

“I personally think it's a bad time and think that the union is playing with people's lives and futures right now — and using them as collateral,” Bosma said.

He expressed concern that a strike would severely cripple students who need to complete co-op terms this summer in his program.

“In my second year of co-op, I was put into a design position and learned more than I would have as a labourer. (The) co-op terms are very helpful to continue on in our studies,” said Bosma.

Rachael Donovan, chair of the colleges' bargaining team, said that the colleges are eager to avoid a strike by continuing negotiations with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), the group representing the faculty.

“We are committed to negotiating a fair, affordable and practical settlement, which ensures that our students receive the highest quality of education possible,” Donovan said in a release.

“The union must work with colleges to reach a fair, affordable and practical agreement. A strike mandate hasn't made OPSEU's positions any more affordable. It hasn't given the colleges any more money,” she wrote.

An anonymous commenter claiming to be an Ontario college professor took to the Maclean's OnCampus website to defend the strike mandate.

“I don't think a strike is the right thing to do... but I voted yes because I truly believe that it will end this situation faster by forcing the colleges to negotiate,” the post read.

“A large part of the disagreement between the unions and the colleges is over workload and academic freedom,” the supposed professor explained.

“I don't know the solutions, but I do know that something needs to change or we will continue to lose the qualities that have made us proud to be Canadians, such as (a) strong education.”

Bosma was a Fanshawe student in 2006 — the last time college faculty went on strike — and knows first-hand the effects a strike can have on his education.

“The course that I was enrolled in was an eight-month trade course, so the three or four weeks that we missed hit us hard. The course ran through the summer. This left no room for the class to be extended,” said Bosma.

“I felt we lost valuable information and class time, (and) after graduating from the course, I didn't feel that I was fully prepared to follow through with working in this trade.”

Despite the frustration, Bosma does have advice for his fellow college students across the province.

“For other students, I would say the best thing you can do is wait... and hope negotiations work themselves out,” he said.

Bosma also mentioned that a professor told his class to find out what their rights as students are.

“Since we have paid the college to teach us, (faculty) are in breach of that contract.”

Emailing members of provincial parliament urging the province's involvement, as well as pre-emptively asking for the missed work, are other alternatives to waiting out the negotiation process.

But, for now, negotiations are set to continue, and Bosma is appreciative that some professors are planning ahead.

“Teachers in my course don't want to strike and want us to graduate. They plan to make project outlines and post the information online for us to work on and turn all our courses online,” Bosma said.

One of his teachers has even held private lectures in his office in the past to help students stay on schedule.