Update: Both the union and the employer's council have reached an agreement to enter binding interest arbitration, meaning a strike will be avoided!
Classes in Ontario colleges will continue as normal today. See below for the rest of the story.
Faculty and staff across Ontario's 24 colleges have set a strike deadline for Friday, March 18, if the College Employer Council (CEC) doesn't agree to voluntary binding interest arbitration.
Yes, that's a mouthful. What it means is Ontario colleges could go on strike as soon as this weekend.
What's at stake?
Front and centre of the conflict is job security for part-time faculty, especially after the last two years of pandemic uncertainty. Not knowing what class you'll be teaching, or when it will happen, or IF it will happen, can be a major problem for part-time instructors who might work at multiple colleges. Faculty is also looking for more flexible prep time, given the fast-paced expansion of online course delivery.
Salary increases are off the table, given the province caps salaries as an act of legislation. The union is primarily concerned with the increasing workload for its thousands of instructors and staff.
What's happening with negotiations?
Negotiations started in July, but broke down in December 2021, when the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents Ontario college faculty, moved to a work-to-rule campaign.
Work-to-rule basically means employees do the minimum required by their job descriptions, and nothing more — meaning no extra-curriculars, or volunteering time for office hours — in an effort to get an employer to continue bargaining.
Could there be a lockout?
On February 17, members of the union rejected, with 62% of the vote, CEC's "final offer," which triggered fears of a full lockout.
A lockout is when an employer closes a workplace (or college!) in an effort to get employees (or faculty!) to accept the employer's demands. A lockout would mean major disruptions to classroom learning, and put thousands of faculty members and staffers in a tough spot financially.
What does the union want?
OPSEU wants CEC to agree to voluntary binding interest arbitration. This means an arbitrator — a third party not affiliated with either side — is brought in to listen to the demands of both sides, before drafting an agreement as a compromise. Both sides are bound to the compromise agreement and everyone can move on.
The problem is CEC won't agree to binding arbitration. On their website, CEC says they're "not prepared to agree to have an arbitrator 'split the difference' on key issues that colleges have already stated are unacceptable to begin with. In essence, there is nothing to split."
What happens next?
Nobody's really sure what's next. CEC might crack and agree to binding arbitration, or they may reject it, in which case a strike will start on March 18. A strike would mean a pause on classes and other activities — an outcome that's in nobody's interests.
If a strike occurs, the outcome will depend on the strike's duration. If things end quickly, disruption could be minimized. If a strike drags out, courses could be pushed into the summer to play catch-up — or the semester could be "lost" entirely. Nobody wants that!
In 2017, OPSEU was in a similar situation. A strike took place over five weeks, before being resolved through binding arbitration. The semester was salvaged, but let's hope history doesn't repeat itself, and we're able to avoid a strike entirely.
Check out CollegeFaculty.org to keep updated