Ontario college faculty have started phase three of their work-to-rule action on March 2 after they rejected the contract offer by a vote of 62 per cent.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union’s action is meant to increase pressure on the College Employer Council to reach a resolution either by negotiating to an agreement or is resolved through arbitration.
The online vote on the Jan. 17 contract offer was held from Feb. 15 to 17 and was open to all 16,000 Ontario college faculty members at 24 colleges. Sixty-six per cent of members participated.
Algonquin College had 699 ballots cast in which 375 rejected the offer, representing 53.4 per cent. This was five points higher than those who supported the December strike vote.
Annette Carla Bouzi, president of OPSEU Local 415 (Academic Union) for Algonquin College, said the faculty sent the CEC a message that the offer they had on the table was not acceptable and negotiation should begin in earnest.
“We had 699 voters at Algonquin and of those 699, that’s a significant portion of our population and a significant number of members who chose to participate,” said Bouzi. “And a majority of them, a majority of us rejected the offer. So it’s consistent with the message that all 24 community colleges are sending.”
Bouzi explained there are several issues of concern. One of them is about precarious work for non-full-time faculty. The college works with the fact that faculty accepts these four-month contracts, which is the overwhelming majority of faculty in the college system, but is across all Ontario, including Algonquin College.
“The colleges have more part-time faculty who are contract workers,” she said. “So they work by a four-month contract, they have no job security beyond the four months of the semester. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot because I don’t know one manager, I don’t know a single college manager, who would accept those conditions for themselves.”
Then there is the issue of job security and support for in-house counsellors.
“We are arguing for more job security for partial-load faculty,” she said. “We’re also very concerned about the outsourcing of counsellor positions. For example, we feel that our students are best served by having full-time counsellors on-site to support them. We don’t think that the mental health needs of the students with a disability or accessibility needs are best served by having these services outsourced to a third party. It should be done in-house. So we’re fighting for job security for our counsellors. So if one of us is harmed, we all are. It’s a harm to the collective.”
The OPSEU and CEC bargaining teams have been negotiating since August 2021, but talks have broken down. As a result, the parties have been at an impasse at the table.
After the college faculty’s contract expired on Sept. 30, the faculty continued working without one. This means that phases one and two of work-to-rule actions have been in place.
For phase three work-to-rule, additional actions are now in effect.
These include the mode of delivery, where professors and instructor can decide if they want to continue online or in-class teaching if it appropriate for the students.
It also gives faculty the option to record the class or not. If they do so, they may share the recordings in other means with students.
For evaluation, full-time and partial-load faculty will not have to grade during non-teaching weeks and non-working hours. But it should be done within regular working hours within their contract terms. This may mean that students may not receive feedback because of work time.
It also means that the grades will be off the learning management systems of Blackboard, Brightspace and 2DL to reduce the likelihood of a lockout. So instead, the grades will be kept by the professors and instructors and be updated via email.
Phase three work-to-rule also includes non-teaching activities. During non-teaching weeks or non-teaching work hours, professors and instructors will only perform activities they have started and not activities assigned by their supervisors.
Also, the professors and instructors do not need to volunteer their unpaid time because they are not given enough time to do so.
“We are following our contract to the letter of the law, so we are given just a few minutes for every student we have in the classroom,” Bouzi said. “And under the work-to-rule, we say, ‘OK, so you’ve given me 5 minutes to mark this assignment, so that’s what I’m going to do.’ And we are not sitting on any committees or the volunteer stuff that we ordinarily do. We’ve chosen to do that, to be there for our students. Rather than to withdraw our labour and to picket.”
Graham Lloyd, CEO of the CEC, wrote an email to the Algonquin Times that the academic employees/OPSEU may continue its work-to-rule or escalate to a full walk-out strike without consulting with faculty again. Therefore, the final offer vote is academic employees’ last opportunity to avoid escalation to the strike action.
“We have told OPSEU many times since August that we cannot agree to their outstanding demands and that Arbitration is the wrong way to address workload and to advance EDI and Truth and Reconciliation,” he said. “We need to move forward together through consensus.”
“The final offer is the best offer we can put forward. There will not be a further offer,” he said.
“The CEC will still be unable to agree to the outstanding Union demands that are still on the table. The only way that we will be able to reengage in negotiations with the Union is if they moderate their demands and rejoin the CEC at the table to continue bargaining,” said Lloyd in the email.
Bouzi hopes the CEC will get back to the table and negotiate in good faith with constructive conversations with the faculty bargaining team to resolve and benefit everyone, especially the students.
“We already know what the issues are,” said Bouzi. “We already know what the problems are. We have decades of research and data. What we need is action and we need them fixed.”