Should Brampton Students Expect a College Strike?

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With the last day of negotiations before the school year now passed, teachers and other faculty at Ontario's 24 colleges could be headed for the picket lines almost as soon as they head back to classrooms for the fall semester.

In a press release, JP Hornick, chair of the Colleges Academic Bargaining Team for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, confirmed a strike vote has been set for September 14.

The announcement comes following a tense round of talks earlier this month.

In the last round of negotiations, management presented a "settlement offer", which the union sees as a restatement of already-rejected terms that it says failed to address those concerns.

Wage increases which OPSEU's bargaining team says have not kept pace with inflation are among the list of concerns. Further, the union says colleges' own figures show they have been underpaying contract faculty by $123 million per year.

Warren "Smokey" Thomas, President of OPSEU, said new data obtained by negotiators this week showed 80 per cent of teaching at Ontario's colleges is done by contract faculty, well above a prior figure of 70 per cent.

The union's bargaining team is pushing for an increase in full-time positions.

However, Hornick says the key issues this time around are two competing visions about how the college system should work.

Union negotiators seek more input for faculty in academic decision-making, as well as protection of academic integrity and intellectual property rights for course materials they produce.

Those issues have come up before, but this week's bulletin raised a new point of contention: workload pressures for librarians and counsellors.

OPSEU says it wants "changes to ensure consistency across colleges in how faculty work is recorded when it comes to non-traditional work, such as attendance at promotional events, participation in committees, or mentorship of other faculty."

Management has, however, made one concession.

Colleges originally wanted to include a "revenue neutral" clause, which would mean any increase in pay for "partial-load faculty" would need to be offset by cuts elsewhere.

The union said this went against the spirit of Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act which includes an obligation to ensure pay equity, or equal pay for work of equal value. Currently, four out of every five among the lowest-paid category of workers is female.

While management backed down on that front, OPSEU says colleges proposed no alternative way to address the issue. Negotiations have stalled on the various other points of their counter-offer.

The College Academic Bargaining Team represents 12,000 professors, counselors, librarians and instructors across Ontario.

More talks are scheduled for September after the start of classes.

The current collective agreement for college faculty will expire on September 30.

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