Some Ontario college students are upset. A strike declared last Monday has caused classes to be cancelled for an indefinite period of time. More than 12,000 faculty members from 24 Ontario colleges are on strike between The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and the College Employer Council before the strike deadline of October 16.
OPSEU wanted the number of part time instructors to be reduced. The new target so that they make up a maximum of half of college faculty. Currently, OPSEU says that 70 per cent of college teachers are part time. However, it should be noted that it is difficult to find exact numbers of full and part time professors. The union wants increased job security. They argue that new teachers should only be hired when there are open positions, and they should be hired for seniority and experience. Following that line of thought, they would like to see new teachers hired only if those with experience turn down a position. They were also concerned with the role of faculty members in academic decision making. Finally, the Union has asked for pay raise of nine per cent for part time instructors over the course of three years. Part time instructors make anywhere between $48 and $140 per hour.
The College Employer Council disagrees. By their calculations, agreeing to the Union’s demands would increase the cost of running the colleges by $250 million. Additionally, the division of full time and part time teachers at the colleges is not reflective of the division of teaching hours. Full time instructors have 50 per cent of the teaching hours at the colleges, according to the Employer Council. However, according to OPSEU, contract employees do 81 per cent of the teaching. Regarding the request for a pay raise, the College Employer Council has said that OPSEU’s request does not align with other contract settlements. They have counteroffered to increase part time pay by 7.75 per cent over a four year period with a salary cap of approximately $115,000.
There has been no indication thus far of how long the current strike will last. In the last 50 years, three strikes in the college sector have occurred. Only once, in 1984, did the Ontario government mandate faculty members return to work. Students had missed 18 days of school. The other strikes, which occurred in 1989 and 2006, both lasted for 20 days.
More than 500,000 students are affected by the strike, and a lot of them are speaking out in frustration.
“It’s frustrating being so close to the beginning of the semester, especially for new students. Every day is vital for new learning and growth,” says Meghan VanDyk, a first year Esthetics student at Niagara College. “I do understand where the teachers are coming from in their hope for seeking full time employment at the colleges, I just wish it wasn’t on my dime and time. The whole matter could have been settled before the new semester began, without losing valuable learning time.”
There has yet to be a clear answer about how those hours will be made up. The lack of clarity as to how much will be missed is stressful, and many students don’t have room in their schedules to simply make up for missed class next semester. Work placements and graduations are just two examples of events which complicate the situation for students.
“It’s frustrating mostly because, especially with the program I’m in, time is crucial,” says Nicole Elgersma, a second year student studying Nursing at Fleming College. “We have placement, labs and many lectures that contribute to our learning and now we can’t do anything. I couldn’t go to my clinical placement this week which to me was the most frustrating because it’s where I learn the most. I’m also feeling stressed because of the unknown. I don’t know when the strike will end and if I will lose my semester. I worked over full time hours this summer to pay for it and now it’s going to waste.”
Similar sentiments from thousands of other students across the province have led to the creation of a petition. The petition demands that students’ tuition is reimbursed for every day the strike lasts. Calculated based off of an average tuition of $5000 for a 13 week semester, students pay almost $40 per day to be in school. The “We Pay to Learn” petition demands that full-time students are reimbursed $30 for each day of the strike and part-time students receive $20. The petition currently has close to 90,000 signatures, with a goal of 150,000. “I’m glad a petition has started for some sort of reimbursement, since most students are feeling the financial burden that college is,” says VanDyk.
Although classes have been cancelled, several schools still have some services available to students. Some colleges are on reading week currently, meaning that many college students will not be missing class for at least this week. It is currently unclear when the strike will end. But The Brock Press will be here to let you know.