October 27, 2017
Construction on St. Lawrence College’s new multi-million-dollar Student Life and Innovation Centre was halted Friday morning as workers honoured the picket lines, refusing to cross in a show of support for striking college faculty members.
“When we heard that the college wasn’t even talking, that’s unbelievable, that just isn’t right,” said Barry Simpson of the Carpentry Union. “We wanted to show a sign of support, so we shut down construction here at the college to get their attention and hopefully get them back to the bargaining table. When I suggested this, not a single person refused.”
Not only were construction workers actively involving themselves in the dispute, Kingston and the Islands MPP Sophie Kiwala visited striking faculty on the picket line. Kiwala spent more than an hour walking and talking with strikers and students, asking questions about their personal experiences.
Strikers related personal stories to the MPP, of precarious employment for contract faculty, inadequate staffing, and the increasing stresses their students face every day at school.
Kiwala also spoke with, and listened to, a group of students who were out supporting faculty. Students shared their concerns, from childcare, to mental health issues, and stressed their shared fears that their semesters could be lost.
Amanda Parslow, a second-year Early Childhood Education student who has organized two student protests beside striking faculty this week, said students are not happy with the answers they are getting from the college regarding the integrity of their semesters.
“What we hear from Glenn in emails is that they are working on getting us back into classes as soon as they can and that no student has ever lost a semester; however, we hear that the college is not even willing to go back to the table,” said Parslow. “It’s frustrating for students. How are we going to make up the time we’ve lost already?”
Kiwala met individually with strikers and students, pledging further meetings to hear their concerns, which she will take in person to Queen’s Park. She said she has already expressed concern to both the labour minister and the minister of Advanced Education and Skills development, pledging that she will continue lobbying for an end to this dispute. She also talked with college CEO Glenn Vollebregt as he entered the campus.
Ontario Public Service Employees Union local 417 president Grant Currie, who represents the striking workers, told Kiwala, “Clearly everyone is frustrated with management’s lack of interest in returning to the bargaining table. We don’t know why they do not want to settle this quickly.”
About 12,000 faculty, counsellors, and librarians at Ontario’s 24 colleges, left their jobs October 16 after representatives of the college system refused to address their final offer. Striking workers want nothing more than to get back into their classrooms with their students.
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For further information, contact Grant Currie, President OPSEU Local 417 at (613) 893-2505 or firstname.lastname@example.org.