Moving forward in the era of Academic Freedom, huge budget surpluses and record grievance numbers

by Ravi Ramkissoonsingh
Local 242 Vice President and Bargaining Team member

The new collective agreement (CA) has been in effect since late December and, as such, this seems a good time to provide an update on the effects of the most recent round of bargaining on labour relations at Niagara College and system-wide.

After a contentious round of bargaining and a five-week long strike, which ended with faculty overwhelmingly rejecting the College Employer Council’s final offer, being legislated back to work, and then having Arbitrator Kaplan rule largely in the union’s favour on a new agreement, management had a choice to make: try to work collegially with faculty as partners in the Ontario college system or double down in its efforts to
put administrative and financial needs above all else. Sadly, it appears as though they have taken the latter approach.

As Chief Steward Terry Poirier’s column in this newsletter indicates, we are seeing a record number of grievances and Workload Monitoring Group referrals. While Niagara College continues to do well financially—we just learned at a Union/College Committee meeting that the surplus for 2017-18 ended up being a whopping $13.9 million—it seems hesitant to invest the funds into creating new full-time faculty positions while continuing its poor treatment of contract faculty. Faculty are being told not to spend too much money on photocopying learning materials for students and class sizes are ballooning while the administrative bloat continues.

A look at the managerial positions listed in the most recent Sunshine List makes one wonder whether we work for a community college or a multi-national corporation. Fifty-one managers/administrators at Niagara College earned more than $110,000 in 2017, for a total of $7,126,548.71.

Regardless of what management continues to do, we are seeing faculty, as a result of the strike and the new CA, emboldened to stand up for their rights. The new academic freedom language has the potential to empower us in our classrooms, and partial-load faculty have additional job security and stronger seniority rights; however, much still needs to be done to improve conditions for this group.

Where do we go from here? Here is what is on the horizon:

The provincial task force Ontario Public Colleges: The Next 50 Years has begun and the first subcommittee meetings were held in April. There are four subcommittees that have been struck: Access and Supports, Staffing, Academic Governance and Intellectual Property, and Flexible Programming. All subcommittees have representation from faculty, support staff, administration, and students. I have been appointed to
the Staffing subcommittee.

Niagara College Vice-President, Academic Steve Hudson is one of Council’s representatives on the task force. Among the issues that will be discussed at the Staffing subcommittee are faculty complement and precarious work. The recommendations of the task force will be reported at the end of this calendar year, and they will be considered for funding by provincial cabinet.

Bill 148 discussions continue between the union and the council, as directed by Arbitrator Kaplan’s decision. Bill 148 is the ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ provincial legislation that took effect on 1 April 2018. We have been assured by the college that part-time and sessional faculty will now be paid the same rate as partial-load faculty under this legislation. The college has effectively admitted that it has been underpaying parttime and sessional faculty by $5.8 million, as President Dan Patterson reported that to be the initial implementation cost estimate recently.

The provincial government subsequently provided Niagara College with over $6 million in the recent budget that ensures coverage for those costs. The major stumbling block is that the Council does not believe that partial-load faculty do the same work as full-time faculty and, as such, Council believes they should not be paid equitably. Both sides have until the end of 2018 to reach an agreement on how Bill 148 will be implemented in the system. If no agreement is reached, outstanding issues will go to arbitration.

Congratulations to our part-time support staff colleagues, who voted to be unionized and have now been certified. They recently held their first divisional meeting in Toronto, and
negotiations on their first ca have begun. The counting of the part-time/sessional faculty certification vote is still being held up by the Council—their willingness to spend significant dollars on legal fees could be put to better use educating our students—but these tactics did not work with the part-time support staff, and we are hopeful that they will fail again.

An overriding lesson that we all learned during the strike was that we are all stronger as faculty if we stand together. Whether it is standing up for appropriate class sizes so that course outcomes can be met, or overworked faculty standing together against being ‘voluntold’ what they should be doing with their time, we continue to see the mobilization of faculty as they stand up for their rights and what is best for their students. It will be necessary to continue to display this resolve as we proceed on our path to improve the Ontario college system for the next fifty years.

Thanks again for all of your support during bargaining and the strike, and I hope that you have a good summer.