This week, about 700 professors, instructors, counselors and librarians at Sheridan College could end up on the picket line if negotiations and a strike mandate are not approved by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).
A strike vote was set for January 6 but saw unsuccessful results. The OPSEU, which represents over 9,000 professors and instructors at Ontario colleges, has set a second strike vote for January 13. The union bargaining team stated that this second vote will strengthen its position at the bargaining table.
The union is seeking changes in workloads, evaluations and feedback, as well as a new maximum salary of $109,317, a 13% increase over three years.
The unions workload and staffing proposals would add significantly to operating costs at a time when the resources of the colleges are severely constrained, and the Government of Ontario has made it clear that colleges cannot expect any significant increases to operating revenues, said the colleges bargaining team in a memo.
Current negotiations, which have been taking place since last June, stalled when the union rejected the colleges final offer.
Jack Urowitz, communications officer for Union 244, said that [the] union side thought negotiations were getting along just fine, as we were trying to get a revised contract to allow for better services and more input into curricula requirements, when seemingly out of nowhere management decided to take advantage of the new rule they gave themselves, when the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act was opened for other reasons. That allowed them to break off negotiations and impose their decisions.
A memo released by the colleges bargaining team stated that there was no indication in the last week of bargaining that the union would modify its position to a point where a settlement was possible. Both sides left negotiations without a settlement.
Mary Preece, vice president of Sheridan College, reassured students that the school will continue to provide full student support during the possible strike.
Sheridan will continue to provide academic services for students to the extent that we are able without our faculty who are members of the bargaining unit. Labs and studios will be covered by non-striking employees for students to use, where there are no health and safety concerns, said Preece.
The only exception will be counseling services, because counselors are part of the bargaining unit. Work placements (field, co-op, clinical, internships) will continue, with a few exceptions that will be posted on Sheridans website if necessary, said Preece.
Despite continued efforts, the colleges have already begun to implement their new decisions. It is still unclear whether faculty will continue with their plans for a strike. We hope that the management bargaining team will return to the table, said Urowitz. If theres a strike, it would be in winter 2010.
The present contract between the colleges and union expired last August 31. The deal for the existing contract was reached during negotiations in 2006, where faculty and the college were in the same bargaining situation that is now being played out. The unresolved negotiations led to an 18-day strike that disrupted classes for students across the province.