In December, the union of faculty, counsellors and librarians at 24 publicly-funded Ontario colleges voted in favour of labour action.
Understandably, this has made students worried about the future of their education. Will classes still be held? Will I be able to graduate on time? Will I still have to pay tuition if the college is shut down due to a faculty strike?
The Student Association understands these concerns. Four years ago, we supported students through a five-week faculty strike which disrupted the school year. We recognize that strikes and labour action among college faculty can negatively impact current students’ education, and while we can’t resolve the labour dispute ourselves, we can help you better understand these complicated negotiations.
College Employer Council (CEC) – The College Employer Council (CEC) is the bargaining arm of 24 Ontario colleges. They are responsible for representing the interests of the college through the bargaining process. Negotiations are between a union of over 15,000 faculty members at colleges across Ontario and the CEC, which represents the employers.
College of Applied Art and Technology, Academic (CAAT-A) – CAAT-A is the bargaining arm of the union, which represents the faculty, librarians and counsellors at colleges in Ontario.
OPSEU – The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is the union which represents public service employees in Ontario. Among the workers OPSEU represents are college professors, librarians and counsellors in Ontario. CAAT-A is a part of OPSEU, but refers specifically to the negotiating party involved in developing the new collective agreement.
Collective Agreement – The agreement between the employer (CEC) and the union (CAAT-A). The previous collective agreement expired in September 2021.
Strike Vote – A Strike Vote – often referred to as a Strike Authorization Vote – is a vote that must pass before labour action can be enacted. On December 11, 2021, a strike vote held by CAAT-A was passed. It’s important to note that just because a strike vote is passed, that doesn’t mean a strike is inevitable, only that it gives the union the option to strike.
Work-to-rule – Work-to-rule is a form of labour action in which the members of the union will do no more than the bare minimum required as outlined by their job description. On December 18, union faculty began a period of work-to-rule. The full extent of how this will affect GBC students is not yet known, but it will likely mean delayed response times from professors and less access outside of office hours.
Binding Interest Arbitration – A mediation strategy proposed by CAAT-A. This process would involve a third party arbitrator reviewing each side’s demands and coming up with a compromise between them. Both sides would then be locked into what the arbitrator decides. CAAT-A offered this resolution strategy but the CEC declined it.
Final Offer Selection – Similar to binding interest arbitration, final offer selection is a resolution process in which a neutral third party is brought in. It differs from binding interest arbitration in that instead of the mediator compromising the demands of both parties, they will only select one set of demands in its entirety. This method was endorsed by the CEC but CAAT-A did not agree to it.
Work on the new collective agreement began in July 2021, a few months before the old collective agreement expired in September. Over the past six months, negotiations have been contentious, with few concessions being made on either side.
Right now, the key bargaining demands made by the faculty include issues like workload (allowing more time to grade assignments), equity (strengthening language in the agreement to prevent harassment & promote diversity) and work delegation (ensuring work designed for union staff isn’t subcontracted). A full list of the faculty’s demands can be found here.
After months of failed negotiations, the CEC filed a No Board report, which led to the union declaring a strike vote. That vote was held in early December and was approved at a rate of 59%.
A strike vote doesn’t mean the union is walking away from work immediately, but it does mean the option is on the table. In late 2021 the union confirmed that they would not call a strike during the holiday break, which ran until January 5th, but now that the break has ended, what will happen next is unknown.
Presently, the union has elected to ‘work-to-rule’ beginning on December 18th. Under work-to-rule, students’ classes aren’t expected to be affected but their ability to communicate with their professors will be.
What happens now?
Now that a strike vote has been approved, there are a handful of directions the labour dispute could go.
- CAAT-A and the CEC return to the table and renegotiate a collective agreement or agree to arbitration.
This option is the best case scenario for students as it would involve the least disruption to their education.
- The union can continue with labour action that doesn’t involve a full work stoppage.
This can also take a variety of forms. Work-to-rule, for example, would slow grading and communication processes, but not affect students’ ability to attend class. Rotating strikes, however, would have an affect on students’ class schedules.
- The union calls a general strike
A general strike would have the largest effect on students. Classes would be cancelled or postponed and students wouldn’t have the ability to consult with their professors.
Both the CEC and CAAT-A frequently post the latest developments in negotiations on their webpages (click here for the latest updates from the CEC, and click here for the latest updates from college faculty). George Brown College also has a webpage with the latest information.
The CEC has published a list of frequently asked questions relating to the strike mandate on its webpage. These FAQs give the CEC’s perspective on the faculty’s labour action, the impact it has on students and the future of the negotiations.
The Dialog, the student newspaper funded and supported by the SAGBC, also regularly reports on the labour negotiations. You can read their reporting at DialogNews.ca.
If you have any questions or concerns about the ongoing faculty labour dispute and how it will affect students, the SAGBC has services to help. Our Academic Support team can help support you if you feel the labour action has affected your academic experience. If you need further clarification on the ongoing negotiations, visit our Contact Us page and a member of the SA staff will help you as best as they can.