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Local union rep hopes premier will step in to end college strike

OPSEU, who represent the approximately 12,000 striking faculty, are hoping for a negotiated settlement with management
20171016 Conestoga College Picket Line KA
OPSEU Local 237 workers picket in front of the Guelph campus of Conestoga College in this file photo. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday

A local representative for the union supporting striking faculty at Ontario’s 24 public colleges is hoping the premier will become involved to help reach a negotiated settlement with management before students lose their semester. 

Lana-Lee Hardacre, OPSEU Local 237 president, said she and other union reps were outside Kitchener’s Crown Plaza Hotel Monday afternoon, hoping to speak to visiting premier Kathleen Wynne.

Hardacre said the union is eager to get the College Employer Council to continue negotiations as the strike heads into its second week. 

“We are not here to heckle, we just want her to see our signs and to help us get back to the table so we can have a negotiated settlement,” said Hardacre.

She estimates that management cannot afford to have workers striking for more than two weeks before students risk losing the semester.

“It’s a 14-week semester and we are in week eight — so we know they can’t leave us out for more than three weeks,” said Hardacre.

One issue for the union is a reliance by the colleges on partial-load faculty, who are paid for the hours they teach but not for preparation time or hours spent evaluating the work of their students.

“I would say the system is broken when you have people who are teaching the students and they are not available outside of class to help them. At Conestoga College, 67 per cent of the people are only paid for the hours they are in the classroom. So that’s a lot of students not receiving the kind of support that other full-time people can provide,” said Hardacre.

In total, the union counts 315 partial-load members at Conestoga College. 

“If you actually add up all of the hours of preparation, evaluation and meeting with students you would see — one person here said she was making $8 an hour, which is not fair,” said Hardacre.

In an email sent to media, Conestoga College said 95 per cent of all teaching contract hours in the college’s full-time programs are taught by its 469 full-time faculty.

Hardacre said, for her, that math doesn’t add up.

“We don’t know how they reached that figure, but there’s only 33 per cent of us that are full time now at Conestoga College — and we’re one of the better colleges (for that ratio),” she said.

The college said the strike, now in its second week, is creating frustration and anxiety for hundreds of thousands of students and families across the province.

In the email, Conestoga College said it is time to end the strike and to get students and faculty back to the classrooms.

“The fastest way to achieve resolution is for the union to accept the colleges’ final offer, or, at the very least, to let the members decide by putting the offer forward for a vote,” said the college by email.

The College Employer Council has made what they call a final offer, which includes a 7.75 per cent wage increase over four years that it said is better than or equal to recent public-sector settlements with teachers, college support staff and hospital professionals. 

Also included in the offer from management is more faculty autonomy over personal workloads and an improved conversion of contract faculty to full-time positions.

Hardacre believes a negotiated settlement is required to have management back at the bargaining table.

“What we often find is (management) leave us out for a number of weeks in the hope that they can bring in an offer to us that we will accept — because we are worried about our students. That’s why we often have to come back and not get all of the things that we wanted, because we don’t want the students to lose their semester,” said Hardacre.

At the hotel in Kitchener, the union hopes the premier will apply pressure on the council to continue bargaining, but first they needed to get Wynne’s attention.

“We’ve been here since 11:30 a.m. and they took her in a back way, we’re not sure how,” said Hardacre.



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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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