Back to School: Students stand to lose

The recent news that college professors across Ontario, including those at Fanshawe College, could be on strike by next month, is turning into a huge distraction for students, faculty and administration.

As usual, there is a lot of confusion of what a strike vote means or doesn't mean and how it fits into the general scheme of collective bargaining. As a reporter in my previous life, who had covered enough strikes and strike votes that I care to remember, here are some facts that can help you separate fact from rhetoric.

First of all, a strike vote doesn't mean there will be a strike. In fact, such votes are called by union negotiators to gauge support from rank and file members for their work in getting a new agreement. It also sends a message to management that the members are willing to do what's necessary, up to and including a strike, to get a fair deal.

It's a negotiating tactic also aimed at raising public awareness of the issues at hand and thereby seeking public support for their position. In the case of the colleges, the main public is the students, who pay tuition fees to learn skills and become gainfully employed. Another public is the provincial government, which provides most of the colleges' funding, and is accountable to the taxpayers of Ontario.

In the case of the colleges, the Ontario Public Services Employees Union notes that from 1972 until 2006, there have been 12 strike votes and just three strikes. In another three cases, there weren't any strike votes and no strikes either. After the January 13 vote, there have been 13 strike votes and the possibility of a strike is still very much up in the air.

Consider that overall, teachers gave their union a 57 per cent strike mandate. That doesn't send a very strong signal to the colleges that faculty members are willing to hit the picket lines if negotiations fail to reach an agreement. At five colleges, including Fanshawe, the majority of faculty members voted against a strike.

So where does that leave the students? We stand to lose class time, unmarked assignments and potentially a “compressed curriculum” which happened in 2006. We need to make sure that both sides know that's unacceptable.

We need to remind both sides that we, the students are customers who pay dearly for our education through tuition fees and taxes. In fact, we had to pay our tuition for the winter semester a month before it started, even when it was clear students may not be getting what they paid for — an education.

We need to tell the provincial politicians, the premier, our MPPs and the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities that they must pressure both sides to reach a fair agreement. Don't let them off the hook with the line that they must respect the collective bargaining process. It's broken, and since they fund these institutions, they have a responsibility to make sure it works again.

And finally, we need to tell them it's time to stop negotiating through the media, using half-truths and rhetoric, and start thrashing it out in the bargaining room.

Anything less than that is unacceptable, but only you can make that clear to both sides.Bruce Langer is a student in the Corporate Communication and Public Relations program at Fanshawe College.

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.