Over 12,000 faculty from Ontario’s 24 public colleges were picketing instead of teaching on Monday after negotiations failed between the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and the College Employer Council.
Car horns were blaring and traffic was at a stand-still in front of Mohawk College’s Fennell campus as picketing teachers blocked cars from gaining access to the school.
One of those picketers was Geoff Ondercin-Bourne, president of Local 240 and a teacher at Mohawk College. Ondercin-Bourne says the strike is about job security, co-governance and better pay for Ontario’s college teachers.
According Ondercin-Bourne, most of Mohawk College’s faculty – roughly 80 per cent – only teach part-time.
“The vast majority of teachers in the college system are non-full time and I always say to the students, ‘are you here in college so you can end up with a part-time job?'” Ondercin-Bourne said. “Of course they’re not, and the teachers are the same.”
The president of Local 240 said Ontario’s colleges should consider following the example of Ontario’s universities by giving teachers an equal say in academic matters. So far, only Sheridan College has been ahead of the curve.
“We look at blended learning (a mixture of in-class and online learning) as an example of the administration telling everybody to do the same thing – and it turned out to be the wrong thing,” Ondercin-Bourne said. “What we’re arguing for is co-governance along the lines of what they have over at Sheridan College.”
“Sheridan College has a senate, and the faculty have a real say in what goes on in terms of academics,” he added. “If it works for everyone else, why [can’t it work for] us?”
When it comes to better pay, Ondercin-Bourne said the two sides were nearly in agreement before the strike was called.
“If all that was at stake was the difference in the demands for salary – we wouldn’t be here,” Ondercin-Bourne said.
Inside the college, the strike is already affecting students like Shannon Steeves, a third-year student in Mohawk’s Advertising and Marketing Communications Management program.
“I’m a little annoyed, only because it’s my last year and my busiest semester,” Steeves said.
“In my program, I work with real clients, so that’s been put on hold,” Steeves said. “Not knowing when I’m going to be able to go back is kind of frustrating.”
Paul Armstrong, vice president of Mohawk College, sent out a written statement to all Mohawk students assuring they are not expected to simply carry on without their teachers.
“Please be assured that students will not be expected to teach themselves or compress material into an unreasonable or significantly shortened period,” Armstrong said. “All completion plans will include the time required with faculty to be successful.”
Armstrong addressed the possibility of a refund in his statement after a petition demanding a refund for every day lost to the strike gained more than 50,000 signatures in four days.
“There are no plans to offer refunds,” Armstrong said. “Mohawk is focused on how we ensure that all students have the opportunity to complete their year.”
Cathy Cherkas, a second-year Creative Photography student, says while she understands the argument on both sides, it’s hard for her to relate to picketers demanding better salaries.
“They’re going on about how they’re fighting for contracts and it’s like – you’re talking to people who will never hold a full-time contract in their field,” Cherkas said.
It’s unclear how long the strike could last, but OPSEU President Warren Thomas said college faculty can rely on the union’s 130,000 members and their $72 million strike fund.
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