College faculty reject employers’ contract offer

St. Lawrence College faculty and other college staff throughout Ontario have voted to reject the most recent contract offer from the College Employer Council (CEC).

With roughly 66% of faculty members participating in the vote, 62% of voters in the bargaining unit rejected the offer from the CEC.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and CEC have been negotiating with little progress towards a new deal for several months, with the current contract expiring in September 2021.

OPSEU Local 417 President Grant Currie says the CEC’s new offer is essentially the same as the one that was previously rejected by the union.

Just a few years removed from the 2017 college strike, Currie says the discussions at the bargaining table are feeling familiar.

“It’s deja vu all over again,” Currie said.

“In 2017 bargaining essentially went the same way, and then we ended up going on strike.”

College faculty have been participating in work-to-rule, and say they’re trying to disrupt student learning as little as possible.

Currie says the hope is that this most recent rejection will urge the CEC to return to the bargaining table or agree to voluntary binding arbitration.

Despite several requests from the bargaining unit, CEC CEO Graham Lloyd reiterated in a statement that the college has no interest in voluntary binding arbitration.

“The parties have the responsibility to bargain and negotiate a settlement that both parties can live with. The Union has proposed to delegate its obligation to a third party,” Lloyd said.

“We are not prepared to have an arbitrator ‘split the difference’ on key issues that Colleges have already stated are unacceptable to begin with and this vote result has not changed that.”

College faculty have repeatedly cited increased time for evaluating student work as a sticking point in negotiations, while the colleges contest that Bill 124 makes that untenable.

However the faculty bargaining unit disagrees that Bill 124 would make those changes impossible.

While the bill does limit wage increases to 1% per year, Grant Currie says those changes would be permissible, and that increases for management have already surpassed that rate.

“Management salary increases have been way, way beyond anything looking at 1%,” Currie said.

“We’ve got members of the bargaining team who have had 20% increases over the last 4 or 5 years. They are being very disingenuous when they claim providing faculty with more time to spend with students or evaluate their materials is in violation of a bill that deals with salary or wage increases.”

The union is pleading for college presidents like St. Lawrence’s Glenn Vollebregt to take action and urge the CEC to either return to the table or agree to voluntary binding arbitration.

Currie says the union has no imminent plans to strike, hoping to avoid negative impacts on students as much as possible.

One student at SLC in Kingston said they don’t feel teaching quality has been affected since faculty began work-to-rule, but feedback and accessibility outside of class hours have taken a hit in the process.

Several student associations locally, provincially and federally have previously thrown their support behind college faculty during negotiations.

Currie says the ball is now in the CEC’s court to come to an agreement.

“The College Employer Council has only one shot at this forced offer vote, they used that last bullet and it failed so the ball is in their court,” Currie said.

“They have to either agree to bargain or agree to interest arbitration, it’s a matter of when.”

In their statement, the CEC says colleges will continue to operate until an agreement is reached or OPSEU decides to escalate beyond work-to-rule.

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