A Southern Ontario Prof Shares their Thoughts

…as we prepare for next week’s forced offer vote.

I’m grateful to have received this e-mail at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com, and also grateful that the writer chose to share not just their thoughts, but their thought process with us.

Please feel free to share your own. I may not agree with it; I may not agree with everything published below, but I’m happy to share opinions that are respectful and directed towards an audience of Ontario college faculty.

Well, here we are, staring down the barrel of a loaded gun once more, a forced offer vote.

One thing I can’t tell you is how my colleagues are reacting to all this. The voices I hear certainly seem vocal enough against the offer, but I also know how few I interact with these days. Not too many people have dropped by my office on their way somewhere else in the last 2 years.

I can only share my thoughts on this current offer, and hope that it resonates with you and others.

At first glance the offer doesn’t look like it’s terribly far away from a deal. I think that’s the scariest thing in this round, many of my colleagues may look at this and say “meh, close enough”. There are many things in this offer that don’t excite me personally. The progress on Indigenous participation in our system? Intellectually I can connect that it’s certainly worth having, and from the point of view of social justice I absolutely support it, but I don’t identify as indigenous so … in a contract where I get one vote to represent my point of view, maybe this doesn’t resonate with me.

Hey, they’re going to add medicinal mary-jane to the contract. Again, not something that vaguely excites me. Legalizing pot went a long way to getting Trudeau elected though. Yes I know, medicinal marijuana isn’t street pot, but it’s also not something near and dear to me.

I have to say, as a full time faculty member, a tremendous amount of the “progress” in the offer leaves me nonplussed. There’s the miserly 1% Bill 124 raise, that will wind its way through the court sometime before retirement – still waiting on the challenges to the back to work legislation by the Wynne Liberals and the cancellation of the arbitrator awarded report from the Ford Conservatives to work themselves out.

That last one though … that seems important though. In this current offer there’s the commitment to study a bunch of stuff that might be important to me as a faculty member. I see the word recommend, not the word “will implement”, but we can trust them right? They’re interested in studying the probl…. oh wait, they’re not, that’s why the last one just got canceled as a waste of taxpayer money.

They claim that the intellectual property provisions violate and are inconsistent with the Copyright Act. It seems to me that someone so certain in this position would be happy to have an arbitrator come to the table and slap our noses with a rolled up copy of the Act right? I mean, the Copyright Act wouldn’t have any specific wording in it to manage this situation since it’s so ridiculous? Now, I’m not a lawyer, but section 13(3) “Work made in the course of employment” and the discussion about “in the absence of any agreement to the contrary” is just something for the lawyers to get a kickback from “big printing” kickbacks right? I can trust that I should put my very best efforts into course materials because they’d never be given freely to Continuing Education to be delivered under a different course code by non-union employees right? There’s no chance at all the college would “accidentally” leave a copy lying around with one of these new private-public partnership deals right? I mean surely TriOS and the like have their own course that perfectly matches the learning outcomes of my courses, which allows them to deliver the under the same course code and credential right? There’s absolutely no chance that their non-unionized workforce is taking jobs out of the public system using my efforts…. right? They’ve never, ever, bundled up an entire program and wholesale sold or licensed it to an overseas institution, right? Right? Oh.

I know that their claim about less jobs if they use more partial load instead of part time employees has absolutely nothing to do with part time being classed as non-union and therefore not protected by the Collective Agreement, right? I mean a fully loaded partial load staff member, operating as part of the union, and earning a supporting wage is no more stable or reliable for either them nor for students who will know the instructor has taught the course a few times and knows the ins and outs right? That stability won’t result in less of my work day going to voluntarily training and onboarding new people who rotate in and out every 4 months, right? I mean, just look at the librarian and counselor positions that they’ve created, instead of 1 full time job, we got a bunch of lower paid, more duty, short term contract jobs. That was a big gain, right?

Ok, ok, ok. You see where I’m going. This contract is far less about “what’s in it for me?” and far more about “what’s missing that affects me?”. I firmly believe that the “concessions” made by the CEC in this round would not exist without OPSEU pushing at the bargaining table. Just like last round though, they put the poison pill buried deep inside. Last time they made us walk a picket line for 5 weeks to recover Article 2 protections that they were abusing to high heaven. The result? A lot of full time positions got backfilled the way they should have always been. This is the thin end of the wedge for them. If we don’t force them to come and negotiate then they never will. I didn’t think that the work to rule campaign was working until I saw the bully tactics and the heavy handed threat to dock pay for an illegal walk out. If they really felt our work to rule campaign was this then they could and would seek an injunction in the courts. Instead they go for the scare tactic.

Remember last round when Kaplan released his decision, it was highly critical of the CEC’s tactics. Let’s get another one of those reports. After the strong NO vote last time the arbitrator very largely said that the faculty demands WERE reasonable and awarded a lot of what we were looking for. THAT’S why they don’t want binding interest arbitration. THAT’S how we scare them back to negotiating a contract.


Two different reactions…

Well, two more letters in the mailbag for today, providing rather different perspectives.

The first:

I’m not a blogger just the husband of a wife who appreciates her job teaching. She worked her way through the ranks part time contract then full time. God forbid others may have to do the same. It must be tough working for $60.00 to $100.00 per hour part time not knowing what the future holds. Oh wait a minute I work too. So lets get it straight you can get by just like you did when you started working. College courses change with the times so must the colleges. Stop expecting the unrealistic expectations. Set realistic goals for the union to achieve like a 5 percent increase in full time staff.

There’s much that I disagree with in the second letter (particularly its assumption that part-time faculty don’t work when preparing their classes or evaluating their students’ work), but I’m delighted that its author and I are in complete agreement about one thing: “College courses change with the times[, and] so must the colleges”.

Of course, in the current round of negotiations, I only see one side arguing that Colleges need to change with the times — a quick review of the offer presented by the Employer directly to the Union membership on August 8 indicates the Employer was rather clearly interested in maintaining the status quo.

And for an indication of what that status quo looks like to one informed observer, I turn to our second letter:

As a fairly recent retiree from CAAT-A, I was horrified when talking with a former colleague this past week, how much the system has deteriorated, just since the time I retired. The contract-to-full-time ratio is even worse than it was just a few years ago. So many full-time faculty have not been replaced, and I think the Union has to face the realization that management will continue on this path until there are no full-time faculty left, and the Union becomes redundant.(I’ve always thought this was management’s real goal). In a college-wide meeting, I heard one of our former college presidents describe his idea of the “perfect college” as one with no full-time faculty–and that was over 25 years ago!! Although management always pays lip-service to “the concerns of students”, lip- service is all that it is. They benefit greatly from strikes, and are the only ones who do (aside from the province). There is something wrong with that.

As ever, please feel free to leave your thoughts, photos, limericks by hitting the “comments” button, or by e-mailing me at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.  All messages will be kept anonymous.

One question I do have is how the thoughts or opinions (or fears?) of Partial-Load faculty might have changed over the past week.


One Student’s Observations

So…we’re on strike. And I’m a wee bit busy.  Thanks for your patience.

One of the truly remarkable things to me about this strike is the level of support that we’ve seen so far from students.  And yes, just because you’d expect me to say that doesn’t automatically makes it false.

I’m not saying that students are applauding a strike (at least, not the ones who had studied for midterms), but I’m struck by how familiar students were with the general themes of the strike — academic quality and fairness — in a way that we didn’t see back in 2006.

That’s just a lead-in to a letter that I wanted to share with you — I found it to be quite remarkable in its thoughtfulness and rigour, and I hope you feel the same.  The student offers a candid comparison of their experiences at a College, a University, and an International Baccalaureate (if I understand the acronym correctly) program.

I’m struck by the student’s thoughts on the effects of full-time employment, but I’m also struck by their observations about a lack of coherence and harmony between their College program’s courses.  I can’t be sure, but I do wonder if this might have its roots in the fact that so many college faculty (unlike their University counterparts) have one departmental meeting per semester, to maximize the number of weekly classroom hours that management can assign them.

Why might there be some college programs where the instruction in classes don’t fit together neatly, with clear connections and minimal overlap?  Possibly, I supect, because of the number of faculty who have absolutely no involvement with their program’s curriculum, or even their courses’ curricula.

Anyway, on to the letter.  The next few posts will probably be devoted to your reports from the picket lines, although any other student opinions are most welcome.

Hi Prof, 

First of all, I’d like to thank you for creating and running this blog. As a student looking to learn more about the issues at hand and the perspectives of Ontario-wide faculty members, the site has been immensely helpful. Thank you for your veracity as well as your dedication to improving the Ontario college educational experience. 
I’m in my second year of college now and I’ve met some amazing professors, but to be completely honest, the programs themselves have not been as impressive. I’ve been to two different high-schools, I’ve been in the IB program, and I went to university for 3 years before coming to college so it’s been interesting comparing the experiences though it’s not a huge sample size. Also, I’m a lot more involved with the student body and faculty at my college compared to high-school and university because I’m a leader for a student-run organization and it’s a more tight-knit community here, so there may be some selection bias. 
Compared to University:
  • it seems like the contract-faculty to full-time-faculty ratio is a much bigger issue in colleges than in universities but I’ve read about how they’re dealing with a similar issue 
  • my courses in college don’t feel as up-to-date or as professional as university courses and the college courses don’t harmonize well together to create a complete, efficient curriculum
  • college has been a lot more hands-on (which I love) and less theoretical than university and tuition obviously costs much less
Compared to the IB Program
  • the IB program curriculum was absolutely incredible: courses tied into one another really well, they were well organized, content was up-to-date, and the quality was so much higher than college or university
  • most of the teachers had been there for years and were able to build on course content and teaching strategies because of that – they knew what worked and what didn’t 
  • if they were not full-time employees thinking long-term, the program at the high school would not have progressed so much
  • every single IB teacher was passionate, intelligent, and well-trained – I cannot say that about every single prof from college or university
So I absolutely see one of the main problems with replacing more and more full-time faculty with contract faculty. The curriculum suffers greatly. In one semester last year, different profs would repeat the same concepts in different classes. It was like getting the same lecture multiple times. On the other hand, profs would teach about concepts that built upon lessons from other courses that we hadn’t learned yet. Furthermore, many of my classmates have talked about how many courses are outdated, which is concerning when you’re in a tech-related program. The program is in need of reform which is difficult when so many of my profs are part-timers with multiple jobs, little prep time, and no office hours even though they’re great professors. 
Last year, I thought this was just an internal issue with my program, but apparently not. Because of the strike mandate, I’ve been learning more and more about the same issues happening in other departments at my college and at other Ontario colleges. A lot of this learning had initially been through anecdotal evidence so I thought I’d try to dig up more information. This has been a little more difficult than I anticipated. 
After countless hours of trying to read through:
  • the expired agreement,
  • the union proposals 
  • the collegefaculty.org website,
  • the CEC offers of settlement 
  • the CEC staffing statistics,
  • the Academic Workload Surveys,
  • news articles,
  • my college’s annual report,
  • the CEC negotiation updates,
  • my college’s student association website,
  • the CSA website,
  • and of course, your blog, 
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is sadly no transparency when it comes to the number of contract faculty members at Ontario colleges… and I tried really hard to find these statistics from both sides. *Sigh* 
Many of my friends and family members are telling me that I’m sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong or that it’s not like I’ll be able to change anything, but I like being informed. I’m a student; a strike will affect my education this year and the outcomes from the negotiations may affect the quality and cost of my education in the years to come. And it’s not just my education, but the education of all current and future students which may even be my kids one day. Is it not my responsibility to be involved in the discussion or at least try to understand what’s happening? 
I did find some data to extrapolate from. I’ll share those findings with you in my next email if you don’t mind me sending another. Please feel free to send me any relevant information/ resources I may have missed. Hope to hear from you and good luck! 
An Ontario college student 
P.S. Sorry for any spelling or grammar mistakes or lack of professionalism. Feels like I used more dashes than I’m comfortable with today… Needs more cowbell.  I’d revise my email more if I had time, but alas, school awaits. 



One Partial-Load Faculty Writes…

There’s a recent article in the New York Times that I think is telling — it compares the working conditions of janitors for two extremely prosperous companies — one at Eastman Kodak in the 1980’s; the other at Apple today.
To quote from the article:
Ms. Evans was a full-time employee of Kodak. She received more than four weeks of paid vacation per year, reimbursement of some tuition costs to go to college part time, and a bonus payment every March. When the facility she cleaned was shut down, the company found another job for her: cutting film.
Ms. Ramos is an employee of a contractor that Apple uses to keep its facilities clean. She hasn’t taken a vacation in years, because she can’t afford the lost wages. Going back to school is similarly out of reach. There are certainly no bonuses, nor even a remote possibility of being transferred to some other role at Apple
Yet the biggest difference between their two experiences is in the opportunities they created. [ . . .]
They both spent a lot of time cleaning floors. The difference is, for Ms. Ramos, that work is also a ceiling.
I’m reminded of this story, now that the following letter has arrived in the mailbox from a Partial-Load faculty
I’ve been a partial load professor for close to 10 years in the same program at the same institution. I am reduced down to part-time in the summer. Thankfully I get renewed every year but am forced to wait a week before classes start to get a contract .
This year 2 positions came up that I was qualified for and as the bargaining agreement states, I would be considered as an internal candidate . After 10 years teaching I was so hopeful to finally have an opportunity to interview .
Alas, I was not granted an interview because I did not have a 3-year diploma in my field. The diploma I have is a 2-year diploma. This diploma was obtained 20 years ago at the very institution I teach for. Seems like an ageist approach to hiring considering 3-year diplomas were introduced into the Ontario college system about 10 years ago.
I am pursuing a Masters in education. I am starting my thesis in December. I am paying for through my own funds. That credential had no impact, nor the years of teaching, or the 20 years of experience I have in my field to obtain an interview.
The system is broken for the people who actually want to be full-time professors.
Thirty-five years ago, American industry didn’t have an underclass of front-line employees for which job mobility was a distant prospect.  Now it does.
Can the same story be told of Ontario colleges?

Back-to-School (2017 Edition)

Okay, so — first day back…  Did you have fun?  Were the other profs nice to you?  Did you have lunch with anyone nice?

And your class sizes — let’s talk about those for a moment, shall we?  How were they?  Manageable?  Appropriate for an individualized student-centred learning experience?  Seriously — same as usual, better or worse?  Larger or smaller than 10 years ago?  And if larger, what steps have you taken (or been forced to take, depending upon the evaluations factors on your SWF if you’re full-time) to deal with the numbers?  Where have been able to adjust to deliver the same quality as before, or have there been elements where you have simply been unable to deliver the same quality?

Share your experiences anonymously at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com, if you’re so inclined.  Remember that we may be a LONG way from having ANY meaningful input on our class sizes, but the College Employer Council has made it abundantly clear that the long road towards that influence begins (but does not, I expect, end) with a strike authorization in the upcoming vote.  After all, the Employer has clearly stated that there are only two paths of negotiation: Either a) accept a status quo that leaves issues of academic freedom, college governance, and workload unaddressed in exchange for pay below the projected rate of inflation over the next four years, or b) authorize a strike.

Hey — if nothing else, I appreciate the clarity.

Anyway, yesterday’s post featured a new contributor speaking about the degree to which Ontario College professors have lost control of their profession.

That post elicited the following response from our most dedicated contributor:

While I share the sentiments and empathize with the passion of the writer of “Controlling Our Own Profession,” I think that the interests of accuracy can best be served if we do not mythologize the past. College teachers (and educators from pre-school to post-doc supervisors) have never been “professionals” in the sense that we controlled ingress, internal discipline, fee schedules and egress from our occupation. Accountants, architects, dentists, doctors and lawyers may share in such privileges; we do not and have not.

So, it is a mistake to claim that “management” has “managed to infiltrate our profession.” Going back to the beginning – before the Union – management had unrestrained powers and, of course, management retains virtually unfettered powers today.

This is not to deny the claim that we ought to have such powers. Nor is it to speak against making every effort to gain them. It is only to say that this would be moving into wholly new ground and any such movement would be something that not only management, but the Government of Ontario – regardless of party – would fight (almost) to the death to prevent.

If, however, we entertain aspirations of becoming a profession at some point (or even achieving the kind of co-management that the Union is endorsing), then we had better understand what we’re up against. As Canada’s most beloved philosopher once intoned: “Moral outrage is too precious a commodity to be spent in the service of anything but reality.” (Varsity Arena, October, 1965)

And while I’m opening up the mailbag, permit me to add the following reply from the same contributor to this post — my original reply to the Employer’s “Two Paths: Strike or Settlement” publication.  I notice that he does provide a comparison of class sizes “then and now”:

When I came aboard the Good Ship CAAT in August, 1969, there were no contract faculty at my college. Every one of us “Teaching Masters” (we weren’t called “professors” at the time) was full-time. True, individuals might occasionally ask to be put temporarily on a reduced load for any number of personal reasons (and were paid a proportionately reduced salary during that period), but cases of that sort were few and always initiated by the faculty member.

Now, in an era when the number of administrators/managers has ballooned by 50% and more, we are told that paying for full-time employees (both faculty and support staff) is no longer possible. The employer insists that up to 80% of the teaching must be done by overworked, underpaid and systematically intimidated precarious faculty who dare not complain lest they be “terminated without cause.”

How come? Tuition fees are way up, and salaries have barely kept pace with inflation over the past 50 years. Is the alleged fiscal crisis of the colleges to be blamed on hideously incompetent management? Or is something else going on.

One place to look might be the funding strategies adopted by the provincial governments (over decades and by all political parties). The success of the colleges and the “productivity” of professors are obvious. In my department, for example, average class sizes have more than doubled from 15 to about 35, and we now teach almost twice as many classes as we did “in the olden days” – 14 over three semesters rather than 8 over two. So, how come we never seem to benefit from “economies of scale”?

It seems plain either that the colleges are being short-changed or that the colleges are being mismanaged (or maybe both). In any case, the so-called “stalemate” is about more than employee demands and employer recalcitrance. Ultimately, the problem is political.

Voting overwhelmingly to give the Bargaining Team a strike mandate is the only way to show that we are serious about change in the way the colleges work is the first step to solving that political problem. Giving thought to who best represents workers’ rights and education and who deserves another kind of vote when the next provincial election come up less than a year from now is another.

Unlike an increasing number of managers, I may not have an MBA from some digital diploma mill far, far away … but I know this much: this ain’t no way to run a railway, nor an Ontario college system.




Labour Day Edition

The following is from a new contributor whom I’m delighted to welcome to the discussion.  I’m reprinting this submission in the interests of fostering a broad conversation about the factors impacting Ontario College education, but cannot attest to the accuracy of any claims therein.

Controlling Our Own Profession

The recent Academic Bargaining Update provided by the College [Employer] Council illustrates why it is necessary for faculty to finally control their own profession.

The Council frames the dilemma falsely as a choice between strike or settlement while ignoring the third option, which is an overhaul of the college system for the sake of justice; for the sake of better education for our students and our communities.

The Union proposals do focus on changing the structure of Colleges. This change is long overdue. Colleges are places where training, education and mentorship are provided. They are not institutions where incompetent managers should be allowed to dictate a vicious financial policy of austerity that only furthers the financial health of its elite while gutting the very people who provide education and training to students.

The current College system, which is overburdened with management, is no longer sustainable. Take the example of the Georgian College President who was awarded a $200,000 increase in salary this year while her College is millions of dollars in debt. Her response has been to cut faculty while promoting the same managers whose incompetence lead to the College’s financial difficulties. These examples can be multiplied across the College system.

If Legislation makes the College Board of Governors responsible for the governance of the College, it is time to change the legislation. It is clear that the legislation is unjust. The College Board of Governors should consist of faculty and not managers who fail to even have terminal degrees in their field and virtually no experience being educators. The University model where chairs are chosen among faculty professors and where accountants do the accounting is one that should be considered as a viable alternative to the current unjust method of “governance.”

If Collective Bargaining addresses the terms and conditions of employment then it is clear that the terms and conditions of employment need to be changed so that educators control the fruits of their labours. Administrators should be serving Professors in their efforts to educate students. The current inversion that has been in place for over fifty years is medieval in scope and unjust in practice.

The Council is upset that “the union demands control over academic delivery.” Professors are best at knowing what students require. The current system to use an analogy is like a butcher telling a brain surgeon how to perform surgery. This would not be tolerated in any hospital, yet it is exactly what management is doing in the College system. In fact it is even worse than the analogy because management has no clue of what is required to deliver proper education and yet they have managed to infiltrate our profession. Management has no business telling professors how to teach. They have no business being in an educational institution when they should be elsewhere such as the financial sector. Education is not fast food. Students are not clients. Professors are not frying up burgers in the marketplace.

How is it that professors have allowed their own house to be taken over by bureaucratic incompetence? Management through a number of clauses have given themselves the power to destroy lives and careers while relying on a part time work force that receives a course here and a course there. Management stuffs their pockets with government funds while telling us that there is no more money for full time hires.

The problem with the College system is the over-bloated and incompetent bureaucracy that needs to be transformed so that professors can once again control their own profession for the sake of their students and the communities in which they live and work.

If nothing else, this letter did inspire me to dig up my copy of the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act, 2002, to find out precisely what powers are given to Boards of Governors, and whether the Council is correct that the existence of Boards of Governors with duties prescribed by law somehow legislatively renders it impossible for me to determine, for example, whether students should be graded individually or through group assignments (something that faculty currently have no authority over, and something that the Employer seems to be arguing that current law utterly precludes our ever having authority over).

Anyway, a review of that legislation is indeed thought-provoking, and may become the topic of a future post.

Please submit your thoughts, either in response to today’s submission or on another issue, to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.

Bill 148 and The Employer’s Latest Offer

First things first: The Employer now has a new Academic Bargaining Update out – I find it rather remarkable on many levels, and I look forward to writing about it soon. Feel free pre-empt me by offering your thoughts on it, in the meantime.

So, it appears that the latest series of face-to-face “negotiations” between the College Faculty (i.e., OPSEU CAAT-A) and College Management (i.e., the College Employer Council) bargaining teams ended recently, and I believe that leaves off meetings until late September, as we near the expiry of the Collective Agreement on September 31.

Now, it seems that my last post may have already been out of date by the time it was published, as the Employer has already presented a new offer once the previous one expired uneventfully.

Now, perhaps I could be forgiven for not knowing that there was a new offer on the table, given that it was presented with, um, minimal fanfare, and little explanation of how this new offer was better than the last one, which had been rejected by the Union’s bargaining team.

Now one possible reason for the absence of that explanation is the fact that the new offer is virtually identical to the last one, in all but one respect – that one being the subject of my last post.

With an eye to the impending passage of Bill 148 (which is designed to improve conditions for part-time or temporary workers, and would enshrine principles of equal pay for those workers), the Employer’s original “public” offer contained a provision that disputes about how to implement the provisions of Bill 148 into the Collective Agreement over the next four years would be subject to arbitration, with the understanding that all changes would be revenue-neutral to the Colleges.

That revenue-neutral language has been removed.

As a consequence of this change, if there were a dispute about how a recently-passed Bill 148 needed to be applied to our Collective Agreement, both sides would still need to resort to arbitration, but the arbitrator would not be obliged to work off the presumption that both sides agreed that any changes should present no additional costs to the employer.

So the revenue-neutrality “agreement” is off the table, but the arbitration provision is still in the new offer, and that’s not insignificant. Certainly, both sides could be at the bargaining table, negotiating what “equal pay for equal work” means in the context of our Collective Agreement. Instead, the offer remains mute on how Bill 148 would be implemented into the Collective Agreement, and dictates that all eventual disputes on the issue would be referred to arbitration.

Needless to say, this introduces a considerable measure of uncertainty regarding what benefit, if any, contract faculty might gain from the passage of Bill 148. It also means that, in the event of disputes following Bill 148, an entire arbitration process would needed to resolve every single conflict – a process that could include preliminary disputes about standing, the scope of the law, and proper procedure.

Note that this process is proposed by the Employer instead of taking the time to ensure  that the Collective Agreement already incorporates the principles of equity for contract faculty, or even (in the face of legislative uncertainty) the time to negotiate at the bargaining table a common understanding of the principles that ought to inform the application of Bill 148 to the Collective Agreement (the College already took the first step to doing that when it introduced the initial “revenue neutral” clause–a further step might involve, um, negotiation).

Back to the College’s proposal to refer all disputes about equity to arbitration: Arbitration is a time-consuming process, and it might be worth taking a moment to look off into the middle-distance, and consider why the Employer would prefer to punt all issues associated with a drafted piece of legislation, rather than negotiate such details at the table, so that both sides could confidently be on surer footing.

Since the Employer hasn’t yet provided any explicit rationale for why contract faculty should be denied the kind of rights that Bill 148 proposes to provide, I can really only come up with two explanations for why the Employer is so insistent upon its current position (i.e., do nothing to incorporate the principles of Bill 148 before it becomes law; refer all disputes to arbitration after):

1. The Employer is relying on the possibility that Bill 148 won’t become law, in its current form.

2. The Employer believes that it would fare better through arbitration than it would by negotiating the changes ahead of time.

The problem with #1? It suggests that the Employer is hoping that the law will permit the Employer to continue to treat contract faculty inequitably. That’s a disturbing line of reasoning, which might explain why the Employer has, to my knowledge, provided no argument in support of it.  What exactly, in the Employer’s opinion, would Bill 148 provide to Contract faculty that those faculty don’t currently deserve?

The problem with #2? It suggests that the Employer is hoping that an arbitration process could ultimately postpone or limit the application of any obligations that the Employer would have under the new law.

These are, quite possibly, uncharitable interpretations or imputations. Please don’t hesitate to get back to me with more reasonable ones that adequately account for the Employer’s current position.

The most reasonable argument I can come up with, to justify the Employer’s position is as follows: “Well, the law will create certain obligations, but we don’t know what they are, so we should wait until the law is implemented, to find out what the legal obligations are. After that time, there will be a legitimate question about how those new obligations would impact our Collective Agreement (if at all), so arbitration is an appropriate dispute resolution mechanism”.

The problem with that sort-of-seemingly-reasonable approach? It ultimately indicates that the College is unwilling to provide pay equity to contract faculty only a) under the force of legislation, b) to the minimum degree required by that legislation, and c) only to the further degree (and only at the time) determined at the end of an arbitral process.

So, look – implementing Bill 148 will either cost the Employer a significant sum, or it won’t. If it will, then perhaps the Employer should explain to Contract faculty which components of Bill 148 would produce the added expense, and why contract faculty should now support an offer that lacks those provisions.

I’ll finish off with the return of a welcome voice from Northern Ontario:

Bill 148 attempts to address precarious work, such as the work of part time and sessional faculty. There would be no revenue-neutrality in recognizing these workers as actually working in ONTARIO (rather than for the federal Crown) and their being entitled to the protections of the (Ontario) Employment Standards Act such as vacation pay and stat holiday pay. With or without a SWF, PT and sessionals have been getting screwed for a long time!




A Southern Ontario Reader Writes…

Firstly, let me thank everybody who has subscribed to the blog recently.  I appreciate it.

Secondly, let me thank everybody who has taken the trouble to leave a comment or to e-mail me at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.  Your contributions expand this blog’s potential as a forum rather than a monologue.  As a reminder, all comments are moderated and will remain anonymous.

With that said, let me turn the spotlight over to a letter that I received last week from a first-time contributor from Southern Ontario…

Keep up the good work with your blogs!

I am a 30+ veteran of the college classroom in [Southern Ontario]. I find it interesting that the [support] staff union has negotiated a full four year contract in addition to the one year already in the bag. Hence they have a type of security until 2022! Since when were they supposed to be bargaining? I am not sure but I think they got the same deal as the [Ontario Public Sector division of OPSEU].  

OPSEU is just rolling over existing contracts and somehow saying this is a victory. Who the heck is doing the work and is Smokey really aware of his team? In reading the small print if, by some miracle, the faculty union negotiates better extended health care coverage the staff will get it too. Ya, right.

Who knows what machinations are going on and the positioning of both this management team as well as our own faculty team? It really is scary how little experience in the classroom the management team has. I wonder if management will force us to vote on a contract via provisions of the CCBA? Could the offer mirror what the staff union evidently may settle for? Maybe the employer team really thinks everything is just wonderful in the college system and no substantive changes need to be made. The system may be breaking down, but at least it won’t completely break down on their watch. And in the meantime look at all the lovely new buildings going up. Too bad there are not enough funds to run things – better hire more managers with ever escalating salaries.

Will the union be able to get around this and eke out a strike mandate? It seems our only tool is the hammer of a strike. How incredibly primitive in 2017. I have walked the picket and it sucks.

That’s it.

Yours, anon

That’s it?  Well, there’s quite a lot there — I’ll pick and choose what to respond to.

Firstly, thanks for the letter.  I’m sure that it will inspire different reactions in those who read it, and I invite them all to contribute.

First and foremost: Yes, the CAAT-S (= support staff) Union’s Divisional Executive has negotiated a four-year “extension” to their Collective Agreement.  And yes, that’s rather irregular, particularly given that, as this letter points out, the CAAT-S Collective Agreement was set to expire in 2018 — a year after our own.  Also unusual is that, as a consequence, the offer has been drafted and proposed for ratification prior to the election of a bargaining team or any Local demand-setting process.

[Curiously, I note that the support deal is advertised as a 7.75% increase in salary over four years, in comparison with the proclaimed 7.5% increase offered to faculty.  This may become relevant in a couple of paragraphs.]

As for the reason why the offer was made, and why it was accepted by the CAAT-S “negotiators”, people will no doubt have differences of opinion: An optimist might say that the team was fortunate to find an Ontario government in a deal-making mood, which could provide an offer that was at least as good as they might hope to obtain through traditional bargaining.  A pessimist might echo your concerns about OPSEU’s receptivity to offers that bypass the traditional means by which rank-and-file members participate in bargaining, and might suggest that the members are being encouraged to take deals prematurely, prior to a serious effort at negotiating improvements.

But optimist or pessimist, I note one thing: OPSEU can’t impose a deal on members — in the end, it’s up to the members to vote on whether they wish to ratify it or not.  If the membership feels that they can do better, they’ll have that chance.  Conversely, if the membership doesn’t feel motivated to press needs that aren’t represented in the management’s offer, then maybe that impacts the likelihood of negotiating improvements in those areas, at a bargaining table.

You see, if a employer doesn’t believe that unionized employees truly care about the issues introduced at the bargaining table, then it would, presumably, have little motivation to make meaningful compromises.  If, on the other hand, unionized employees are able to communicate that they stand behind their bargaining team and insist upon their own demands, then the bargaining table can in fact become a place where necessary changes can be successfully negotiated without a strike — changes that include improvements to the job security and equal treatment of precarious workers, as well as protections for the full-time complement of the bargaining unit.

Will the union be able to get around this and eke out a strike mandate? It seems our only tool is the hammer of a strike. How incredibly primitive in 2017. I have walked the picket and it sucks.

I agree that the hammer of a strike is indeed primitive.  Far preferable would be for both sides to engage in an honest discussion of the current strengths and weaknesses of our college system, and understand what changes are needed to workload, complement, and governance, in order to provide a stronger footing for the colleges to face the next 50 years.

But — based only on both sides’ public statements, and particularly on the Employer’s current offer  — I see no appetite for any such discussion on the Employer’s side right now.

I wonder if management will force us to vote on a contract via provisions of the CCBA?

Well, if the conclusions that I arrived at in my last post are valid, they would do that if it was the best remaining alternative to actually negotiating the Union’s primary demands at the bargaining table.

But I suspect that any offer on which the Employer forced a vote wouldn’t look precisely like the current offer.  [Hint: Remember that missing 0.25% that I mentioned earlier?]

Maybe the employer team really thinks everything is just wonderful in the college system and no substantive changes need to be made. The system may be breaking down, but at least it won’t completely break down on their watch.

Well, I won’t presume to read management’s mind about the state of the College system, but the Employer’s offer would seem to make clear that it wishes to see no substantive changes in our working conditions (and especially in our working relationship) for the next four years.

In other words, the status quo is working quite well for them, and their curious description of their offer as an “extension” of the current Collective Agreement — indicates the degree to which that offer is intended to be a status quo offer.

My question is: Is the status quo working quite well for our students?  For their employers?  For Ontario’s workforce and society?  No doubt we’ll have weeks to contemplate the answer to that one, but feel free to chime in with your thoughts, at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.

2017 Negotiations Messages (#4)

So in my last two posts, I’ve looked at the first “Academic Bargaining Update” from the College Employer Council.  Specifically, my last post started thinking a bit about the relationship between form and content, as the CEC presented its primary bargaining posture (which I very loosely summarize as “College faculty should be grateful that we’ve done as great a job as we have so far, given that the Colleges are going broke”).

So, I’m now wondering if it’s simply bias that’s leading me to be concerned about the lack of developed, nuanced efforts at persuasion in that bulletin.  I recently got called a ‘dinosaur’ for the first time by a colleague (perhaps I should be surprised that it took this long), and maybe it’s simply unreasonable for me to hold anyone to the standard of actually trying to engage with ideas and context and reasoning in the medium of a bargaining newsletter.  (With that said, I do note that pages 7 and 8 of the OPSEU bargaining team’s March 2017 Newsletter contains a “Message from the Chair” that attempts to situate the current needs of the Ontario College system within the context of its history and original mandate, as well as the evolution of a current corporatist managerial culture).

Anyway, on that topic, I wanted to share some welcome feedback I received from our most dedicated correspondent:

A former boss – a Campus Dean to be precise – once told me that if I expected him to read any memo I sent on matters of college policy or procedure, it had better be no more than a single page. Anything that can’t be said in one page isn’t worth saying, he declared.

I foolishly assumed that he was merely displaying a bad case of AADD (Administrator’s Attention Deficit Disorder). I have now read enough “visioning” statements, “mandates,” “core competency” summaries and other glorifications of the next new big thing (purloined from decades-old business magazines and MBA exams) to know that a preference for bullet-points isn’t just a reflection of NRA politics.

I am now convinced that a studied indifference to authentic evidence, an inability to make or understand cogent arguments, and simple failures in common sense are not anomalies in the logic and rhetoric of managerial exposition, but an endemic feature of the current corporate culture.

Any half-way serious analysis of the structure and symbolism of both formal and informal communications from the authorities will immediately reveal that there is no intention to communicate, much less to deliberate, but just to intimidate, distract, obfuscate and misdirect.

And maybe that helps me to articulate my real issue.  I’m not concerned with the CEC’s relying on the language of marketing (“Investing in faculty”!) and techniques of marketing because I think that marketing is inherently evil: I’m concerned because the Employer’s exclusive reliance on marketing indicates that the  Council is currently unwilling to engage in a thoughtful discussion with faculty — with Ontarians — about the current needs facing the College system.

What’s working in our Colleges?  What’s not?  Is the status quo truly sufficient for the needs of Ontario’s economy and society?  How many students are prospering, and how many are merely getting a piece of paper at the end?  Does the College Employer Council believe that it’s actually desirable for over 70% of College faculty to work on one-semester-long contracts?  Desirable for faculty to lack ownership over the materials they create?  Desirable for faculty to lack the authority to decide whether students are evaluated using written work or multiple choice?  And if so, what’s the data behind that belief?

Now, one could certainly argue that there are better forums to have a discussion about how to best ensure that Colleges are able to accomplish their mandate than by trying to hash it out in partisan newsletters in the heat of bargaining.  But here’s the point: that debate doesn’t appear to be occurring in any meaningful, influential way anywhere else, at any other time.  And the fact that the College Employer Council so far appears unwilling to attempt to seriously engage with those issues (or, indeed, with reasoned principles at all) in its newsletters suggests that there is literally no place for such discussion to occur, in the opinion of College management.  It suggests that the College Employer Council appears confident that a serious, influential debate over the needs of an underfunded College system can be replaced with the repeated reassurance that “We have invested in faculty despite a challenging financial environment”.

(In truth, it’s probably premature for me to make that claim without first considering whether the above concerns are contradicted or upheld by the Employer Council’s second newsletter — one that was published on July 10, after three days of bargaining had been completed.  I invite you to weigh in on that issue, at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.)

Bargaining resumes this week.  It would be interesting to know to  what degree the dynamic of the bargaining table reflects the dynamic of messages that have been put forth for public consumption by both sides thus far.

Basking for Clarification…

An author of a previous post clarifies which side she’s on:

Oh my goodness…. I wrote the post that has been titled “dissenting voice.” I was completely unclear/vague in my last line!

I am NOT a dissenting voice […]! I am completely and utterly FOR the strike. Management is wrong. Sweeping away 30 years of collective bargaining is completely wrong. Ending collective bargaining as we know it is completely wrong. Asking us to roll over and “take it” (I’m not going to complete that thought, but in my anger you can imagine how I would finish that phrase), counting on fear and (perhaps) ignorance to get a NO vote is completely wrong.

I welcome the chance to exhibit the moral courage needed to stand up to increasingly arrogant and forceful anti-union forces and fight for the collective good of all workers.

I now know that [my] College voted against the strike. I’m ashamed, and demoralized. I simply CANNOT understand how people who live paycheck to paycheck, like most of us, can be against organizations that try to look out for them. I simply cannot understand it. It goes against all logic and reason.

I hope this post is more clear!

I’d say that it is.  Personally, I’m in favour of banning all pronouns, to avoid future misunderstandings.  🙂