It’s 8:40 am on the coldest day of fall so far this year. There should be scores of students entering Fleming College’s Frost Campus in Lindsay for classes.
Instead, a thin picket line of resolve has formed across the campus driveway and 2,000 students in Lindsay have been left out of class in a battle about job quality for college instructors.
Audrey Healy, union steward for Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 352, says that 81 per cent of courses taught at Ontario colleges are taught by contract faculty. These instructors go from semester to semester, never knowing if they will have another course to teach.
“We’ve asked for a 50-50 ratio instead,” says Healy, between part-time contract faculty and full-time work.
Precarious employment has been rampant across Canada, growing since the 1980s when privatization, deregulation, and globalization began in earnest. This kind of work is defined as part-time, temporary, or contract, often without benefits. More than half of Greater Toronto Area workers are in temporary, contract or part-time jobs, according to McMaster University, but cities and towns of all sizes, including Lindsay, have been adversely affected.
In addition to the quality of work for instructors, Healy says the strike action is also about teachers having more academic decision-making power.
“We need some of this power in the hands of teachers – so it’s more like a model of shared governance,” she says.
Without this, Healy says the quality of education suffers. For example, if a three-hour weekly class is shorted by a college to two hours it may be cheaper for the college but perhaps not beneficial for the students.
“In some cases, they (the students) are being short-changed in their education,” she says.
“This matters because with instructors having a partial say it would allow the curriculum to be developed by good pedagogy,” and not seen only through the lens of cost to the college, she says.
Healy says one student who came to school this morning to use the library — which remains open during the strike — was worried about missing even a single day of his intensive 10-month course.
“It’s unfortunate this is happening,” Healy says.
The College Employer Council has said that union demands would add more than $1 billion in costs over a three year time frame.
Across Ontario, the strike action is affecting 24 colleges and about a half million students.
OPSEU, which represents 12,000 college professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians, is also seeking increased job security for its part-time faculty.