By Kit Kolbegger
Students and faculty from colleges across the GTA gathered at George Brown College today to encourage faculty to vote to reject the latest offer from the College Employer Council.
The rally was organized by students, including Paula Greenberg from Humber College, and James Fauvelle, who studies at Centennial College.
Greenberg said she was inspired to help organize the rally because she was tired of seeing “anti-faculty, anti-union” comments from other students online.
“I don’t believe in that, it doesn’t speak for a lot of students who do understand and support the faculty,” she said. “And I don’t want the media to think that’s just the one student line.”
Greenberg said while she understood some students’ frustrations, she didn’t agree with the idea that faculty should back down from the strike.
“They should not back down. This is such a historic fight that this will set a precedent,” she said.
Alexander Shvarts is a professor at Humber College. He said he was part of a “flying squad” created by striking faculty that goes to student-organized and faculty-organized rallies, as well as talking with local MPs and government officials.
“We wanted to do more than just picket on the line. We wanted to make a difference,” he said.
Shvarts said he hoped faculty would vote to reject the offer from the College Employer Council.
“I think the offer is extremely poor for everyone – counsellors, full-time faculty, partial load faculty and I think especially students,” he said.
Shvarts said he and other members of his flying squad had met with officials from the Liberal government on Tuesday.
“I’m unfortunately not very confident in the negotiation process after [the vote],” he said. “We were encouraging them to go straight to arbitration. I think that’ll bring a fair settlement.”
Liz Sokol, a counsellor at Humber College’s North Campus, spoke during the rally about working conditions for counsellors in the college system. Counsellors at Ontario’s 24 colleges are part of the same union as teachers, and are part of the 12,000 faculty on strike.
Sokol said many colleges were cutting the numbers of counselling positions.
“I think the bottom line is, in fact, ‘the bottom line’,” she said.
Sokol said many students have mental health issues, and because community services have been “decimated,” college counsellors play an important role.
“College counseling centres end up being primary care for a lot of people, and we were not designed to be that way, and we are not funded to be that way,” she said. “But if people walk in through the door, looking for primary care, we can’t say no. We ethically can’t say no.”
Sokol said she wanted to come to the rally especially because it was organized by students.
“I haven’t had a chance to be around students who are supportive of faculty, and I just wanted to be here,” she said. “
Sokol said she thought the organizers were “special” because they were able to look past what they were losing as students because of the strike.
“Frankly, at 19, 20, 21, that can be really hard to do,” she said. “If I was a student in this strike, I don’t honestly know what I’d be doing.”
Greenberg, one of the rally’s organizers, said she was happy with the way the rally unfolded. She said it was important to her that faculty knew she and other students stood behind them.
“I’m feeling really good that a lot of the teachers were out to hear this, because they need to hear that there’s students out there who are like, ‘No, don’t take this bad deal,’” she said. “We want you to fight, we want you to fight to win.”
The College Employer Council asked the Ministry of Labour to force the vote last week. The results of the vote, which needs a 50 per cent plus one majority to pass or fail, are expected Thursday morning.
Greenberg said she hoped faculty would reject the Council’s offer by a wide majority.
“It will give a big middle finger to corporate Canada and say, we are not here for your part-time contract bullshit. We want full jobs, we want benefits, we want vacation, we want to be taken care of because we’re running your damn economy.”