Ugly divide-and-conquer strategy fails CEC

Talk about an epic strategic failure.

 

USE pickets 1

St. Lawrence College faculty walk the line

Before this strike happened, many faculty were divided on the issues, and many of us weren’t sure we were willing to commit to a strike for them. I certainly wasn’t. But, boy, has that ever changed, thanks to some nasty bad-faith tactics employed by the College Employer Council.  Indeed, college faculty across the province have changed their minds in droves.

 

Just look at the difference between the number of faculty who voted for a strike mandate in October versus the number who voted this week to reject the council’s recent forced contract offer. And look at the increase in the numbers of people who simply voted.

If I have my numbers right, as many as 11,000 of Ontario’s approximately 12,000 college faculty voted to reject the College Employer Council’s forced offer today compared to the approximately 7,200 faculty who voted in October to support a strike mandate.

 Back in October, of the 7,200 who cast a ballot during the strike mandate vote, only 68% voted in favour of that strike mandate. This time around, of the 11,000 who cast a ballot during this latest forced “bait-and-switch” offer, 86% voted to reject the council’s offer.
That is quite the turnaround in faculty support for the issues being fought for by the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, wouldn’t you say?
frank on picket line

Frank Armstrong pickets reluctantly in Week 1 of the strike

The “no” vote is even more noteworthy when one considers that the stakes are getting higher by the day. The semester is in jeopardy. Our students are getting angrier—some with us and some with the college administration and provincial government. Our local union war chests are getting low (our strike funds come from money we all put away over several years for just such a crisis). Many of us are dipping into our lines of credit to feed our families. Most full-timers (like me) have nothing to gain financially by striking. And we see that our students—the people we are fighting the hardest for in this strike—are suffering just as we are.

Yet, here we are—at the end of Week 5—standing up against an employer that has much deeper coffers, much higher paid labour lawyers and strategists, and a direct communications pipeline to students through college emails and other campus mediums.

 

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OPSEU negotiators wait for the CEC to return to the table

Sadly, the current, dire situation could have been avoided if the council had bargained in good faith. Instead, it pretended to return to bargaining then threw out most of the items that it had conceded during the “fake” negotiations it had initiated. Then it appears to have lied about having reached agreement on all matters except academic freedom. 

The council also had college presidents (like us, they are employees of the council) issue statements to students and faculty that were clearly meant to create division between students and faculty (these clearly did not support two of our own college’s core values: Students First or Integrity).

These ugly tactics and others only served to cement the determination of faculty, including on-the-fence full-timers like me who previously had no strong notions about the issues.
chicken sign

A picket sign made after the CEC’s “fake” return to bargaining

Ontario government and College Employer Council, you’ve really blown it. And unfortunately, it’s your clients—our students—who are caught in the vicious vortex you created by underfunding colleges (Ontario has the lowest funded college system in Canada per student) and by playing dirty pool in the negotiating process.

This issue is bigger than all of us. It’s about standing up for our children, and for our future workforce (our students), and saying that precarious contract work is wrong and that our grads and children have the right to live in a country where they can have decent jobs and middle-class lifestyles. An overreliance on contract faculty also hurts student success.
Ontario government and colleges, you both need to step up—the province with more money and the colleges with a critical review of your current, crumbling hiring models. Education cannot be effectively commodified.
And instead of trying to divide faculty and students, colleges need to stand with faculty and students to demand more money from the Ontario government.
If they don’t, someday soon, we will see their business model, and the colleges themselves, self-destruct.
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About teachingteacher

Business communications instructor, journalist, corporate communications writer and media trainer ... and Masters Candidate M.Ad.Ed.
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