OPSEU, CEC agreement an unfortunate loss for students

Re: “OPSEU, CEC claim success with arbitration agreement following college strike”

OPSEU, CEC agreement an unfortunate loss for students

It’s been almost two months since the longest college strike in Ontario’s history came to a close. Following the government’s invocation of back-to-work legislation in late November, a binding arbitration agreement between the Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU) and the College Employer Council (CEC) was signed on December 20. Both parties to the agreement claim that the arbitration was a success. Unfortunately, relishing in their accomplishments overlooks approximately 500,000 college students who may not be willing to say the same.

Over the course of months, these students carried the financial and emotional weight of missed classes. Full tuition refunds were only available to those students who dropped out of school two weeks after the strike ended. Although they can return to classes next year, making students choose between their money and education is unfair. Some may argue that colleges made up for the lost time by extending the semester, but students did not pay for an education that crams five weeks’ worth of material into two.  

For many students, there was no relief after the storm. As reported by the Ottawa Citizen for instance, international student Abby Sun faced the threat of not graduating from Algonquin College in time for a new job, and missing Christmas with her family was an even more pressing concern. No amount of money can alleviate the emotional toll this strike took on students, and contrary to the sentiments of OPSEU or the CEC, they may not be moving forward from the strike with such a positive mindset.

Issues of academic freedom and the wage increase may have been resolved by the college strike, but this resolution came at a cost. While the union and colleges may have gotten what they wanted, students deserved better than becoming collateral damage.

Andrea Tambunan is a first-year student at University College studying Life Sciences.

OPSEU, CEC claim success with arbitration agreement following college strike

Agreement settles wage increase, academic freedom

OPSEU, CEC claim success with arbitration agreement following college strike

On December 20, one month after the Ontario government ended last fall’s college faculty strike with back-to-work legislation, the two sides have completed a binding arbitration agreement mandated in the legislation to settle all outstanding issues. Both the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which initiated the strike, and the College Employer Council (CEC) say they are satisfied with the conclusion of the agreement, which was brought together by arbitrator William Kaplan.

The main components of the Kaplan award, as the agreement is called, are a wage increase of 7.75 per cent over the course of four years, a payment of $900 to full-time staff and $450 to part-time staff to satisfy claims and grievances filed as a result of the strike, academic freedom in terms of curriculum and research, and a government-mandated task force to look into the lack of full-time positions and excess of contract-workers.

Both parties acknowledged the impact the strike and arbitration had on students, who lost five weeks of learning. Jonathan Singer, professor and president of the faculty union at Seneca College, said, “I’d like to express my tremendous thanks for the support that we received from union locals at the University of Toronto and also from college and university students province-wide.”

Both parties are claiming success through the arbitration after some of the more controversial matters were settled. OPSEU cited the establishment of academic freedom as a success; the CEC consider the retention of control over academic programming a win.

“We are happy to have gained academic freedom as a consequence of the strike,” Singer said.

Pat Kennedy, president of the faculty union at Algonquin College, agrees that the result is a success for OPSEU, but says he is “perplexed” as to why the CEC also viewed the agreement as a victory.

“They’re just trying to save face,” said Kennedy. “I have yet to hear any articulation from any management as to what they got [from the arbitration].”

Don Sinclair, Chief Executive Officer of the CEC and member of the bargaining team, said that although Kaplan awarded OPSEU the academic freedom it wanted, “he did not award… academic control. So the issue of programming, academic programming, remains in the hands of the institution.”

Looking forward, Singer said that they are “very hopeful that the province-wide task force… will be addressing issues of full-time versus part-time complement and academic governance at Ontario’s colleges.” The use of part-time faculty was a matter of contention during the strike that has yet to be solved.

“We wish that we had been negotiating with an employer who was willing to address issues at the bargaining table rather than one that was committed to stonewalling until the government legislated us back to work,” said Singer.

Sinclair says he is aware of the impact the arbitration agreement has on relations between the CEC and the faculty.

“I think it’s been a tough strike for everyone. I think with the award it will help put to rest some of the issues, and that we [will] all just move forward and try to [rebuild] our positive relationships,” Sinclair said.

U of T’s biggest stories of 2017

The Varsity looks back at the defining headlines of last year

U of T’s biggest stories of 2017

JENNA MOON/THE VARSITY

Toronto and U of T organized against Trump after his inauguration

Following Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States, protests broke out in Toronto and around the world in opposition.

Trump’s actions have had a direct effect on members of the U of T community. One of his first major acts was an executive order on immigration, which limited the country’s intake of refugees, as well as visitors and immigrants from certain majority-Muslim countries.

Joudy Sarraj, last year’s Trinity College Female Head of Non-Resident Affairs, told The Varsity that she would have been impacted had she not had dual Canadian-Syrian citizenship. In the wake of this executive order, a protest took place on University Avenue in front of the US Consulate, attended by a number of U of T students.

Eliminating staff positions at the UTSU was a promise the Demand Better slate ran on. TOM YUN/THE VARSITY

UTSU: Demand Better dominated, two staff members laid off, Hudson lawsuit settled

The Demand Better slate, led by Mathias Memmel, won the majority of executive positions and board seats in the March 2017 UTSU elections. The slate ran on a platform focused on fixing the union after years of mismanagement. Within the fall 2017 semester, two executives, Vice-President University Affairs Carina Zhang and Vice-President Campus Life Stuart Norton, resigned for personal reasons, and they have since been replaced.

Demand Better executives also fulfilled their campaign promise of cutting back salary expenses, laying off two full-time staff members who oversaw clubs and health plans. This stirred controversy in the student body; opponents claimed that clubs and student services would be negatively affected, though the UTSU argued that they would not be.

The UTSU also settled a two-year lawsuit with Sandra Hudson, the union’s former Executive Director, who they alleged committed civil fraud. The UTSU was seeking $277,726.40, which was initially given to Hudson as part of a compensation package when her contract was terminated, and an additional $200,000 in damages.

Details of the settlement are undisclosed but have drawn the ire of several board members and Vice-President External Anne Boucher.

Trinity students have clashed with their college administration over two alleged assaults and a ban on alcohol-licensed events. STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

Trinity student alleged assault, TCM vote of no confidence against administrators

In September, Trinity College student Bardia Monavari, Co-Head of College, alleged that he was verbally and physically assaulted by Campus Police following a residence party. Monavari placed the blame on college administrators Adam Hogan and Christine Cerullo, who he said refused to intervene when they saw the alleged assault.

Soon after, the Trinity College Meeting, Trinity’s direct democracy student government, passed a near-unanimous vote of no confidence in the Office of the Dean of Students. The motion signalled the disappointment of students in Trinity’s response to Monavari’s alleged assault, as well as the alleged mishandling of Tamsyn Riddle’s sexual assault case. Riddle filed a human rights application against both Trinity College and U of T. Since the vote, Provost Mayo Moran has banned alcohol at college events, and the Office of the Dean of Students and the college heads have been using an external facilitator in mediation meetings.

Thousands of college students in Ontario were out of school during the five-week faculty strike. PHOTO BY CONNOR MALBEUF, COURTESY OF THE GAZETTE

College strike affected U of T’s partner schools, campus unions secured strike mandates

Faculty at colleges in Ontario went on strike for close to a month, following failed negotiations with the College Employer Council over job security and academic freedom in classrooms. This affected UTSC and UTM students enrolled in joint programs with Centennial College and Sheridan College, respectively. After faculty rejected a tentative agreement, the strike ended when the provincial government enacted back-to-work legislation. This forced faculty to return and for any other unresolved issues to be decided in binding arbitration.

Meanwhile, labour unions at U of T began preparing for negotiations as their tentative agreements with the university expire. Sessional lecturers, under CUPE Local 3902 Unit 3, voted 91 per cent in favour of a strike mandate. The main topics included wage increases and improvements in benefits, but talks stalled on the issue of job security. The union reached an agreement shortly after, which was later ratified. Unit 1, which represents teaching assistants, also voted overwhelmingly for a strike mandate. Their main point is increasing wage rates, but no statements have been released yet about the ongoing status of negotiations.

STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

Jordan Peterson remained a source of controversy

U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson gained international attention in September 2016 after publishing his YouTube series criticizing political correctness. The news gave way to many rallies, both in support and in opposition of the controversial professor and the right to free speech.

Throughout 2017, Peterson remained a source of controversy. In February, a right-leaning conference where Peterson and Ezra Levant, founder of The Rebel Media, were scheduled to speak was interrupted by protesters and resulted in crowd control police taking to the campus.

Later in the year, Peterson had his funding request denied for the first time by a federal agency, proposed creating an online university to counter traditional institutions, and doxxed two student activists.

In November, Peterson proposed creating a website targeting “postmodern, neo-Marxist” professors, which he eventually abandoned. Later in the same month, hundreds of individuals and organizations across Canada signed an open letter to U of T calling for Peterson’s termination.

Back-to-school plans being prepared for students in UTM-Sheridan, UTSC-Centennial programs

What to expect from satellite campuses’ administrations in wake of strike’s end

Back-to-school plans being prepared for students in UTM-Sheridan, UTSC-Centennial programs

Nearly 500,000 college students across Ontario found themselves back in the classroom last week, after the Ontario government voted to end the five-week college faculty strike. The 1,000 students in joint UTM-Sheridan College programs and 170 in UTSC-Centennial College programs headed back to class on Tuesday.

UTM Vice Principal Academic and Dean Amrita Daniere said that her administration has been in “hourly” contact with administrators at Sheridan to accommodate students. “We have… a plan for every single course that will allow students, we believe, to finish their education, finish their work, in a way that everyone can get done, almost without exception by [mid January].”

UTM-Sheridan students will also have their credit/no-credit option period for first semester courses extended until January 26, 2018 from the original December 4 deadline. They will also be able to withdraw from a course without academic penalty up until January 8, 2018.

Students in UTM-Sheridan courses won’t experience a shortened winter break, though assessments will take place during the UTM exam period.

Representatives from the Dean’s office at UTSC did not meet with Centennial administrators until November 24, when it was determined that students in UTSC-Centennial programs would be allowed to drop courses without academic penalty up to a date that has yet to be set by the Centennial administration.

UTSC Media Relations Officer Don Campbell said it was agreed that a “detailed document” would be produced, “specifying those delayed drop and add dates and providing advice to students on how to deal with other issues and possible conflicts that will arise as a result of the extended fall term and delayed winter term at the college.” Students can expect that document to be sent to them and posted on the UTSC Registrar’s website later this week.

“We’re all on high notice to prioritize these students,” said Daniere. “So I’m actually feeling very calm compared to how I imagined I would be feeling over the weekend as we all waited for some kind of resolution.”

Back to work, but for how long?

While it facilitated students’ return to classrooms, the Ontario government’s response to the college strike was an unsatisfactory approach to resolving the labour dispute

Back to work, but for how long?

The five-week-long college faculty strike, which brought over 12,000 workers to the picket lines, has come to an abrupt end after just over a month of grueling standstill. On October 16, employees from 24 colleges, collectively represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), went on strike to fight for at least 50 per cent of faculty members to work full-time and to improve job security. The College Employer Council, which bargains on behalf of the college administrations, said that OPSEU’s demands would cost $250 million, which would result in thousands of lost contract positions. As a result, both sides dug their feet into the sand, refusing to come to an agreement.

What ultimately broke the tension was the Ontario government’s decision to swoop in with back-to-work legislation — thereby sending both workers and students back to the classroom. Although this undoubtedly came as a relief to many students previously left in limbo, we cannot in good faith praise the province’s actions without critically examining their consequences. The fact is that the conflict between college administrations and faculty is far from resolved, and the invocation of back-to-work legislation was but a band-aid solution to the underlying struggles that pushed employees to the picket lines in the first place.

It is true that, in stopping the strike, the province has at least temporarily alleviated the concerns of the many students who suffered substantially as a result of missing classes. While college administrations and faculty played tug-of-war, half a million students across the province had their educations abruptly suspended or halted altogether. Over 1,000 students at UTM and UTSC have also been affected, given the joint programs the university hosts in conjunction with colleges in the Greater Toronto Area.

While it is encouraging that the province plans to provide students with compensation for the coursework they missed, there is no tangible way to turn back the clock. A recent press release by the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario outlined the dilemma students now face: either call it a wash and bear the temporal and financial burden of a lost semester, or try to cram five weeks worth of course material into the little time that remains before end of session. Some colleges have suggested that classes will extend into winter break, ridding students of time that might otherwise have been spent with family and friends over the holidays.

International students were put in a particularly vulnerable position in this regard, given that their very ability to remain in Canada is often contingent on their ability to continue their studies. The strike’s indeterminate end time resulted in a scramble to extend study permits, which likely resulted in substantial stress for many students. Now, though other students have the option of taking time off to re-evaluate, some international students will be forced to remain enrolled in order to maintain their immigration status. This is on top of the financial costs associated with having to stay longer than necessary in a foreign country.

There is therefore a clear need to prevent the negative repercussions of strikes on students and other affected parties, as opposed to merely trying to remedy them after the fact. What this requires is long-term, sustainable support for workers, as well as meaningful negotiation mechanisms. By abruptly bringing an end to the conflict, Ontario has merely postponed its resolution.

Strikes are actions of last resort that result from logjam in the collective bargaining process. When workers have exhausted other options, taking to the picket lines may be the only reasonable way to push administrations to step up to the plate. In this case, it is reasonable to assume that the tensions that brought faculty to the point of no return will come to a head again in the future.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees’ Local 3902 Unit 1, which represents teaching assistants among others at U of T, went on strike in 2015. The dispute’s ultimate conclusion was unsatisfactory for many people. In a move that some workers felt was inadequate, the union voted to stop striking and enter binding arbitration — a process that ultimately favoured the administration. Meanwhile, the underlying issues that culminated in the strike were left to fester until partially addressed in 2016, when the university eventually acquiesced to some of the union’s demands. Today, negotiations are ongoing between the administration and Unit 1, along with Unit 3, which represents sessional lecturers and other academic instructors and assistants. Unit 3 recently voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike mandate, citing familiar concerns about precarious job security and lack of paths to permanent employment, though a tentative agreement with the administration has now been reached.

The fact that the Ontario government ultimately sent students back to school also does not absolve it of its share of the blame for ongoing problems between administrations and workers. Despite the government’s recent labour law reforms, as reported by CBC Newsabout 80 per cent of college faculty members are part-time workers, and colleges and universities continue to rely on part-time staff. The province has yet to put forth any substantial remedies to the precarious conditions often associated with this type of employment — conditions in which contract workers are being paid less than their full-time colleagues and have far fewer benefits.

It might also be argued that the province’s ability to invoke such measures comes at the expense of ensuring labour negotiations are as meaningful and genuine as possible. While both OPSEU and the colleges are responsible for ensuring staff have adequate working conditions, college administrations are the ones that directly collect fees from students, meaning they bear the additional responsibility of ensuring their educations are not unduly disrupted. With the cloud of back-to-work legislation hanging over their heads, college administrations are not given enough incentive to bargain in good faith with their faculty, putting workers at a clear disadvantage in the process.

It’s a good thing that students are back in class — but considering the strategy taken to get them there, the ends don’t justify the means. Negotiations between administration and faculty must continue in the spirit of securing a long-term, sustainable solution to this conflict. The province also has a responsibility to create conditions that are conducive to meaningful negotiation instead of waiting until the eleventh hour to take action.

Meanwhile, it would serve the U of T administration well to revisit its responsibilities to students and employees alike. Hopefully what happened with the college strike has not set precedent for how labour negotiations will be resolved in the future, particularly in the event that another strike threatens to break out at the university.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Back-to-work legislation highlights Liberals’ disrespect for unions

Re: “College faculty strike ends with back-to-work legislation”

Back-to-work legislation highlights Liberals’ disrespect for unions

While Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals have introduced numerous measures to improve workplace environments and raise wages in Ontario, their most recent use of back-to-work legislation to call an end to the college faculty strike is an affront to the collective bargaining process and a reflection of their true attitude toward unionized workers.

The use of similar measures has been deemed unconstitutional in the past — in 2016, similar action taken against postal workers during the Harper era was ruled to be in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. In addition, the move also makes it incredibly difficult for unions to leverage fair contracts for the workers they represent. Instead of a prolonged strike motivating employers to put forward genuine contracts that unions could support, the use of this kind of legislation allows employers to run out the clock, proposing no contracts any responsible union could support in the process.

The Premier and Advanced Education and Skills Development Minister Deb Matthews appeared together as supposed ‘gods of reason’ against the deadlock between college administrators and faculty. For her part, the Premier managed to sidestep any criticism the Liberal government deserved for its role in the deterioration of labour relations. In reality, the government’s own austerity has reduced college funding to national lows, increased tuition, and forced educators to work multiple part-time contracts to make ends meet, which ultimately culminated in faculty being pushed to the picket lines.

For unions, last Sunday’s events indicate the substantial challenges the Wynne Liberals have created for unions. For all Ontarians, however, these events should ensure that respect for unions is an election issue.

 

James Chapman is a third-year student at Innis College studying Political Science and Urban Studies.

College faculty strike ends with back-to-work legislation

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne introduces legislation to force end of strike

College faculty strike ends with back-to-work legislation

Since October 15, over 12,000 Ontario college professors, instructors, counselors, and librarians have been on strike, demanding academic autonomy and longer contracts. Last weekend, the Ontario legislature passed a bill that will force them back to work on Tuesday, November 21, ending the strike and pushing outstanding issues to a binding mediation-arbitration.

MPPs debated in a special weekend sitting of legislature to get the bill through. It passed by a vote of 39 in favour and 18 against, with all Liberal and Progressive Conservative (PC) MPPs present voting for it and all New Democratic Party (NDP) MPPs voting against.

The bill would have sent students back to class on Monday, November 20 if it had reached unanimous consent in legislature, but it was blocked by the NDP, with party leader Andrea Horwath claiming, “I want students back in classrooms Monday, and I want that achieved through a deal.” The PC party has supported the back-to-work legislation from the beginning. Classes for students will now resume on Tuesday, November 21.

The strike has affected 1,000 students in joint UTM-Sheridan programs and less than half of the 170 in UTSC-Centennial programs.Province-wide, approximately 500,000 students found themselves “caught in the crossfire,” of the strike, said Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) President Warren Thomas.

Efforts to end the strike diminished when striking faculty members voted overwhelmingly to reject a contract offer by the College Employer Council, which approached the Ontario Labour Relations Board to force a vote — at least 50 per cent plus one vote in favour would have been required to approve the offer. A total of 95 per cent of the 12,841 striking faculty voted, with 86 per cent voting to reject the council’s offer.

Thomas called the bill “the worst kind of political theatre,” claiming that it pitted students against faculty.

“I am disappointed in the extreme that, even after the College Employer Council extended the strike by two weeks by forcing a vote on its last contract offer, and even after 86 per cent of faculty emphatically rejected that offer, the Premier has put forward a bill that does nothing to hold the colleges responsible for their bad behaviour throughout this process,” said Thomas in a bulletin posted on the OPSEU web site.

Thomas blamed the council for the length of the strike, claiming that they knew they would get the back-to-work legislation and then “ran the clock down” until that occurred. He goes on to claim that the council has been “vying all along” for the return to work legislation to result in arbitration, but he said they might be in for a “rude awakening” depending upon the arbitrator, equating the varying possible outcomes of arbitration to “rolling the dice.”

Meanwhile, legislatures justified the legislative decision by referencing the students affected by the strike. “Students have been in the middle of this strike for too long and it is not fair,” said Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in her initial statement proposing the back-to-work legislation.

International students

International students have been especially concerned since their fees are significantly higher than domestic ones. Potential extensions for the semester may result in additional rent and other expenses.

“The situation is a mess,” said Temiloluwa Dada, a fourth-year international student from Nigeria. He is expected to graduate at the end of the academic year, but his plans may be subject to change, and a study permit renewal will be necessary if his graduation is postponed. Dada still has an internship to complete for his journalism program, which could also be affected by the prolongation of the semester.

“My meeting with the school wasn’t as productive as I would have liked it to be,” said Dada. He stated that the staff he spoke to at UTSC said that “UTSC’s plans are contingent upon the length of the strike and what Centennial College plans to do.”

Elizabeth Oloidi, another fourth-year international student from Nigeria, is concerned about her plans after graduation, which is supposed to take place at the end of this year. Like Dada, she will have to renew her study permit and visa as a result of the elongation of her study period. In addition, she is worried the strike may affect her grades.

“If I go outside of Canada to pursue my graduate studies not all institutions might understand the strike that happened at a college while I was a university student,” said Oloidi, “and why that affected my grades so much in what was supposed to be the last year of my studies.”

Both Dada and Oloidi had plans to travel back to their families during the winter break, but now their plane tickets may have to be postponed or cancelled.