Student unions meet with Advanced Education minister as strike ends second week

(Photo by Kit Kolbegger.)
A student holds up a sign during a support rally for striking college faculty at Humber’s Lakeshore Campus on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017. Student unions met with Minister of Advanced Education Deb Matthews, as well as the chairs for both the faculty union’s and the colleges’ bargaining teams, to encourage negotiations to resume. (Photo by Kit Kolbegger.)

By Kit Kolbegger

Representatives from eight student unions including Humber’s Ignite met with Minister of Advanced Education Deb Matthews on Thursday to discuss the Ontario-wide college strike.

In a post on Facebook, Ignite said student union president Maja Jocson represented Humber. Jocson and other student union presidents also met with the bargaining chairs from the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union and the College Employers Council.

“While we’re not satisfied that negotiations are still not taking place, we’re happy the parties were willing to hear us,” Ignite’s statement said.

“We will continue to use these lines of communication to let all parties know how dissatisfied students are that there are still no talks happening.”

David Scott, the media contact for the College Employer Council, said that the Council sympathized with student concerns.

“We definitely want the strike resolved, and sooner rather than later but there are clear impediments to that,” he said.

A provincially-appointed mediator is involved with the bargaining process. Scott said the mediator felt there was no point calling either the faculty union or the colleges back to the bargaining table.

“We would be in a very similar place to where we were at the start of the strike, on Oct. 15, because the union continues to have proposals on the table that the colleges cannot afford and frankly will not accept,” he said.

Scott said it was unfair for the faculty union to say that the colleges were not willing to bargain.

“Our position has been consistent,” he said. “We are being consistent in our position and we have been consistent in that position since July.”

Scott said the last offer from the faculty union’s bargaining team would add $250 million in costs for the colleges.

“The $250 million does not become more affordable in July or in August or September and October,” he said.

One of the union’s key demands has been more job security for contract faculty. Pam Johnson, a part-time instructor at Humber College, said Wednesday that contract faculty have to apply for their jobs every three months.

Another demand from the union is an increase in the number of full-time faculty employed by the colleges.

“People believe we should have decent work. It is not the norm to have partial load, part-time precarious work that does not allow you to pay your bills,” Johnson said.

Scott said that hiring full-time faculty at the “rigid ratio” of 50:50 the union is asking for is unfeasible. He said having more part-time teachers allows the colleges to have more flexibility in their course offerings.

“Quite often, there are programs that will be… adjusted or shifted over time,” he said. “That flexibility is a hallmark of the success of the college programs.”

On Wednesday, the College Employer Council’s direct line phone number and staff phone numbers disappeared from its website. The faculty union tweeted out screenshots of the phone numbers following the disappearance, asking where they had gone.

Scott said he was unaware of the phone numbers’ disappearances.

“I’m surprised to hear that,” he said. “Obviously we want to make sure that people have access to information.”

Warren “Smokey” Thomas, the president of the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union, said during a strike rally Wednesday that he understood students’ frustrations with the strike.

“I’d be upset too if I was a student,” he said. “But I’m asking the students… direct that anger at management.”

The second week of the college strike is ending, and no negotiations have been scheduled so far.

Humber’s student union, Ignite, said in a statement on their website that they will continue to reach out to both bargaining teams with other student unions to “ensure that the voice of students are heard.”

Ignite also said they are reaching out to Humber’s administration to make sure students would be represented in any decisions about how studies will continue once the strike ends.

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