The following letter was sent to Conestoga full-time and partial load faculty on November 12, 2017. From November 14-16, the faculty will have the opportunity to vote on an Offer of Settlement that could bring an end to the province-wide faculty strike now entering its fifth week.
There’s no doubt that the last few weeks have been very difficult for everyone at Conestoga and across Ontario’s college system. We’ve all struggled to come to terms with the issues and find a path forward to resolution.
By its very nature, collective bargaining is a divisive process. This round has been particularly contentious and difficult.
But now it’s time to set that aside.
As we head into the vote on the college’s offer, what I really want to focus on are students.
Every day, I get dozens of calls and emails from students - your students - and their families. They’re frustrated and angry, but mostly they’re worried.
And as the strike stretches on, it’s getting harder and harder to reassure them.
The colleges’ standard response - and the one OPSEU has been using as well - is that no student has ever lost an academic year as the result of a strike.
But we’re in uncharted territory now. No faculty strike has ever lasted this long, and what’s happened in the past is not necessarily an accurate predictor of what will happen in the future.
The government has made it clear on multiple occasions that they do not intend to step in to end the strike. If the members turn down the colleges’ offer, it seems likely that the result will be a protracted strike as bargaining continues.
The colleges can’t agree to the academic control language that the OPSEU Bargaining Team describes as the only major issue preventing a settlement. The engagement of stakeholders and industry advisors in academic decision-making is one of the tenets upon which the college system was founded. It’s what helps keep our programs relevant and responsive to the changing needs of today’s workforce. Colleges are not universities: our focus and our primary responsibility is to prepare students for successful careers. Industry involvement plays an important role in that process.
I’ve been the President of Conestoga for thirty years now. What’s kept me here is a fundamental belief in the importance of the work that we do, and how we help individuals who come from a wide range of backgrounds and circumstances to access education and training, achieve their potential and build better futures for themselves, their families and our community.
As a group, our students don’t come from privileged backgrounds. Many of them have encountered obstacles along the path to success. For these individuals, Conestoga provides a second chance - or maybe their last chance - to achieve a better life.
They’re counting on us to help them, and I’m very proud to say that - most of the time - we do.
But not now. And while union leaders may be comfortable dismissing these often-vulnerable individuals as ‘collateral damage’ in a contract dispute, it is tremendously disheartening for me to face the reality that, with each passing day that the strike goes on, we are hurting students more and potentially jeopardizing their futures.
The colleges’ offer addresses all the priorities that your union bargaining team raised on your behalf. It includes more rights and job security for partial load faculty. It also includes a firm commitment to the implementation of Bill 148 as soon as it is passed, which will address concerns regarding equal pay for equal work. It provides guarantees on academic freedom, better access to full-time jobs, and pay increases that are comparable to, or better than, those accepted by public sector workers across the province. It asks for no concessions.
According to a message from the OPSEU Bargaining Team to members on November 8, the only issue standing in the way of settlement is the debate over who will have authority and control over curriculum. Even they concede that the issue goes beyond the realm of contract negotiation and is designed to fundamentally alter the nature of colleges.
It’s up to you to decide if that’s an issue that justifies keeping our students out of the classroom even longer.
Your vote is very important. Please take the time to review the offer on the Ontario Labour Relations Board website and cast your ballot November 14-16.
John Tibbits, President