KINGSTON, ONT., Nov. 3, 2017—More than 160 demonstrators gathered at St. Lawrence College on Friday to protest precarious employment and to fight for academic freedom.
Members from several of the city’s labour unions joined picketing professors for a rally at the entrance to the college, where local union leaders encouraged them to stay strong as they wrapped up their third week on the picket line.“We are standing here together, showing that we believe in our cause,” said Grant Currie, president of Local 417 of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union.
“These awful, four-month low-paying contracts that make people live in fear for their lives, so they cannot plan their future have to go,” Currie told the crowd. “We also have to have input into decision making; let’s make decisions that are based on our knowledge and our dedication for the learning that goes on in those buildings.”After his speech, Currie said he was impressed to see such solidarity from so many labour unions. Union flags were carried by 5 local unions, including the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Queen’s University Faculty Association, which brought 15 Queen’s professors to the event, many of them full-timers who were once part-time professors.
Cathy Christie, a full-time Queen’s science education professor and a former faculty association president who spent years on short-term contract, said it was important for her and her colleagues to come to the rally to show solidarity in the fight against a global problem.
“It’s not just St. Lawrence; this is an issue that is across the country and around the world,” Christie said in an interview. “Our universities and colleges are relying on contract faculty and it undermines every academic institution in the country, in the world.”
About 12,000 faculty, counsellors, and librarians at Ontario’s 24 colleges left their jobs Oct. 16 after the College Employer Council refused to address their final offer. Faculty wanted the employer to boost the number of full-time and part-time faculty to a 50/50 ratio instead of the current 19/81 one. Faculty fear that colleges will continue their commodification of education until colleges are entirely staffed by part-time professors. After all, just 10 years ago, the ratio of full-timers to part-timers was 70/30. And Council CEO Don Sinclair has said to news media that the council will not agree to any ratios so that colleges can maintain flexible workforces.
Contract talks restarted Thursday. If a settlement is reached today (Friday), classes could resume as early as Wednesday, Nov. 8.
Currie said he is “optimistic” a settlement will soon be reached.