News Local

68% of OPSEU members voted in favour

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

Provincial college faculty, including those at Barrie's Georgian College, have a strike mandate heading into new contract talks Monday.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) says 68% of its members voted in favour of a strike mandate ahead of collective bargaining scheduled to resume next week.

The current contract agreement for 12,000 professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians expires on Sept. 30. No strike or lockout deadline has been set.

OPSEU bargaining team chairwoman, J. P. Hornick said the vote doesn't mean the faculty will hit the picket lines - but it does give them more negotiating power.

“This is a very strong mandate for us to go back to the table,” she said. “It sends a clear message to the employer that they need to address faculty issues in this round of negotiations.”

The College Employer Council is the bargaining agent for the 24 Ontario colleges in negotiating collective agreements with unionized staff. Each college board determines the terms and conditions of employment for non-unionized staff.

Don Sinclair, the council's chief executive officer, said the 68% support is not unexpected.

“We're not surprised by the mandate. Most unions are able to get a strike mandate,” he said Friday. “The reality is a strike vote essentially kind of increases the likelihood of a strike by college faculty because...we're $400 million apart. It's a big chasm.

“A strike vote, the mandate, doesn't give us any more money.”

OPSEU says key issues in the talks include the role of faculty in academic decision-making and fair treatment for contract faculty.

Hornick said the College Employer Council has so far ignored all 16 proposals “to improve the quality and fairness of the college system in Ontario.

“Hopefully this strike vote will be the incentive the colleges need to start negotiating for real,” Hornick said.

“I think ignored may be too harsh a word,” Sinclair said Friday. “They've made their presentations and their proposals across the table. Essentially we've said that the majority of those proposals are not palatable, because of the significant costs that they would add to our institutions.”

The union says 81% of college teaching is done by contract faculty, who have no job security and are paid significantly less than full-time permanent faculty.

“They make only a fraction of what a full-time person makes for the same work,” Hornick said. “We're trying to build a quality system that is stable and secure.”

“We're at the table next week,” Sinclair said. “We still remain committed to a negotiated settlement, which is fair to the faculty. It also has to be affordable.”

OPSEU Local 350 represents 278 full-time faculty and 299 partial load faculty at Georgian College's seven campuses. An additional 368 faculty members teach on a part-time basis and are not members of the faculty union. Numbers change every semester, however, especially non-full-time faculty.

The colleges teach about 220,000 students across Ontario.

Support staff at the 24 colleges ratified a four-year contract extension late last month.

With files by The Canadian Press

bbruton@postmedia.com