St. Lawrence College Faculty Returning to Bargaining Table

With all signs pointing towards a strike as recently as Wednesday morning, the college faculty bargaining team and College Employer Council (CEC) are poised to take another crack at ratifying a collective agreement on Thursday. 

In separate statements, both the OPSEU faculty bargaining team and CEC have claimed to have extended the invitation to return to the bargaining table. 

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, the CEC maintains that workload changes can't happen at this time, but that the council remains "committed to making changes jointly through a comprehensive consultative process."

In the release, the CEC says their position has been strengthened after a letter from the Treasury Board Secretariat affirms the councils position that Union workload demands are untenable under Bill 124. 

Throughout the negotiations, faculty bargaining team representatives have repeatedly noted their apprehension towards a strike, and since January have been engaged in work to rule. 

But a letter to college presidents from the faculty bargaining team on Monday has taken the impasse to a new level, setting a March 18 deadline for the CEC and college presidents to extend an offer of binding interest arbitration and avoid a strike. 

"Binding interest arbitration is not a win for faculty. It’s not a win for College Presidents," the letter reads.

"It’s a win for students."

Faculty have pushed for binding interest arbitration as a resolution to stale negotiations for some time now, which would see a mutually agreed upon arbitrator stepping into negotiations and deciding terms for a new deal based on the demands of both sides. 

Faculty set a deadline of 12:01 AM on March 18th for the CEC to extend this offer, otherwise prepared to strike. 

A little under a month ago, OPSEU Local 417 President Grant Currie did not see a faculty strike as an impending option. 

He says now with an imminent provincial election possibly seeing legislature dismissed and work to rule not putting the desired pressure on college presidents, a strike is the only real remaining option for staff.

"Unfortunately this is our only leverage," Currie said. 

"I hate to put it that way but our only bargaining power that we have is the pressure to put on the colleges and the colleges are obviously not feeling any pressure right now with work to rule."

On Tuesday, Currie said he doesn't see an end to these negotiations without sitting down with an arbitrator, and stretching out this process only causes more harm to the students whose own money, time and hard work is being increasingly wasted by extended negotiations. 

"We're going to end up in front of an arbitrator sooner rather than later," Currie said.

"To be putting the students through this needlessly is just so frustrating."

The students, Currie says, are frustrated but largely understand the issues teachers are faced with, and their position has previously been supported by student federations in the province. 

However some students are just as frustrated with the faculty as they are the CEC, with one student posting on social media saying they feel teachers abuse their ability to strike, and that after two years of education being blindsided by COVID both sides should make it their priority to actually put the students first.

"They're fully aware of how essential they are and always hold out to get a better contract despite the repercussions they have on students," the post said regarding the impending faculty strike. 

"They have robbed us of an education already by extending online classes long after they should've been removed and are making things so much worse for us by striking at this time. We are paying customers, trying to get an education to better the future for ourselves."

Terry McGinn, President of the St. Lawrence College Student Association, says while reactions vary by student, the vast majority really don't care who is right and wrong and just want to see a resolution.

"There's certainly no big talk about supporting the faculty or supporting the College Employer Council here on our campus on the Kingston campus," McGinn said.

"From the Student Association's perspective we're definitely staying neutral."

She said from conversations with students, the main concern is seeing negotiations come to a close with as little impact on the remainder of the semester from the perspective of both time and learning outcomes. 

McGinn said she hasn't heard students discussing the financial implications of a strike and potentially looking to recoup tuition money, but noted that with the news of a potential strike only breaking on Monday that the conversations may have just not yet arisen. 

SLC's Student Association were a signatory on a letter sent to both OPSEU and CEC, essentially pleading for them to figure terms out and minimize the impact on the education experience.

McGinn says students need to keep the pressure on both sides to come to an agreement, and if a strike takes place they need to remain diligent about their own educational responsibilities and not become complacent. 

"I think it's important for students to recognize that even if there's a stoppage of work that it may not last very long," McGinn said.

"If we're trying to say don't stop this because we want our education to not suffer, we also can't be part of the problem of letting it suffer."

The two bargaining teams will meet virtually with a Ministry of Labour Mediator on Thursday in hopes of making progress on a new deal. 

Story by Owen Fullerton, YGK News, for the Local Journalism Initiative

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  • Dinah Jansen
    published this page in News 2022-03-16 18:33:46 -0400