CEC Seeks Union Vote On Contract Offer

strike
A scene from the faculty strike in 2017.

EDITOR’S NOTE: At some point in February, the long-standing contract impasse between Ontario’s two dozen colleges and their unionized faculty members may either be resolved or brought to the brink of a strike.

On January 17, the College Employer Council (CEC, “management”) asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) to arrange for a vote on its most recent “final offer” to the thousands of professors, librarians and counsellors who are represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

The faculty members’ previous contract expired at the end of September.

Months of talks – some assisted by provincially appointed mediators and conciliators – have been futile.

Talks between the two sides broke off prior to Christmas.

The union conducted a vote which saw 59 percent of members vote to authorize strike action to back up their demands.

For the time-being, however, the faculty members have implemented only a “work to rule” campaign: not performing any extra work beyond what is required in their previous contract.

To spur along the process – to either settle the dispute, or spur a resumption of negotiations, or to “put the ball in the union’s court’ – the CEC is now advocating that a formal vote be held on its pre-Christmas “final offer”.

Here’s the CEC’s media release on the subject (followed by OPSEU’s response):

Today, the College Employer Council (CEC) representing the 24 Ontario Public Colleges, asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) to conduct a vote with OPSEU academic employee membership on the CEC's most recent offer.

This morning, full-time and partial load academic employees received a copy of the CEC offer along with an overview explaining the changes to the current collective agreement.

The CEC has been bargaining with the Union bargaining team (representing partial-load and full-time instructors, professors, counsellors, and librarians) since July 2021. In October, the parties voluntarily entered a month-long mediation with renowned mediator Brian Keller. He terminated mediation and issued a report of his findings when it became clear to him that "the union team's proposals were highly aspirational but not realistic". In November, the parties met in conciliation; however, minimal changes had occurred since meeting with the mediator, and so a No Board report was issued.

"It has become clear that the union will not moderate their demands regardless of the advice they are given or the fact the college sector continues to navigate a global pandemic. As such, the colleges must think of the students: students who have been faced with unprecedented amounts of uncertainty in their lives and in their college education," said Dr. Laurie Rancourt, Chair of the CEC Management Bargaining team. "Today, the CEC has asked the OLRB to hold a vote for college unionized academic employee members to vote on its most recent offer.  Additionally, we urge OPSEU to keep their promise to put students' needs first by not escalating the labour dispute. We ask that they allow College faculty to continue working until the results of the employer vote come in, especially given the modest 59 percent strike mandate result."

The CEC offer includes all the terms and conditions the colleges introduced on December 13, 2021, as well as three joint working groups on areas of shared interest between the CEC and the union.

"We embrace the chance to review workload, EDI, and Indigeneity in the colleges, and are hopeful these joint working groups will provide the necessary data for informed decisions moving forward.  The management vote gives academic employees a chance to have their voices heard on our offer," said Graham Lloyd, CEO of the CEC. "We are asking academic employees to look at our offer and recognize that we've reasonably addressed the areas of concern their bargaining team put forward. This includes introducing mechanisms for joint investigation and collaboration to improve conditions in key areas.  A vote yes is a vote for labour stability and a vote to put students and their education first".

The most recent CEC offer focuses on enhancements for academic employees and includes no concessions. A summary of these enhancements is provided below. To review the details of the full offer visit  HYPERLINK "http://www.collegeemployercouncil.ca/en/bargaining/CAATA2021" www.collegeemployercouncil.ca/en/bargaining/CAATA2021.

• Increase maximum annual wage to the maximum, retroactive to October 1, 2021, as currently allowed under Bill 124.

• Include medical cannabis coverage prescribed by a licensed physician to a maximum of $4,000/year, subject to prior authorization by the insurer.

• Enable Indigenous teachers to bring an elder or traditional knowledge keeper to the WMG as an advisor.

• Enable Indigenous employees to bring an elder or traditional knowledge keeper to grievance meetings as an advisor.

• Document Coordinator duties before an employee accepts a Coordinatorship. Such acceptance will remain voluntary.

• Update the counsellor class definition.

• Enable Partial Load employees to accrue service for statutory holidays on which they were scheduled to teach.

• Change Partial Load registration date from October 30 to April 30.

• Extend Partial Load registration preference to courses which a partial load employee taught while part-time or sessional.

• Continue Partial Load priority for a course even if the course code changes, unless there has been a major revision of the course or curriculum.

• Add a new Letter of Understanding regarding the creation of a Workload Committee. The parties agree to engage in a two-step process with the purpose of resolving workload considerations. The Committee shall discuss and examine issues relating to the assignment of work to full-time faculty under Article 11 and to partial-load faculty under Article 26.

• Recognize the parties shared commitment to achieving employment equity within the college system. The parties shall establish a subcommittee of the union/college committee who shall, working in consultation with the existing college committees addressing EDI issues, report to the full UCC which shall then make annual recommendations to the President.

• Add new Letter of Understanding on Indigenization, Decolonization, and Truth and Reconciliation. OPSEU shall join with the CEC in establishing a collaborative Indigenous-driven process to work on issues related to Indigeneity in the context of employment under the academic and support staff collective agreements within the colleges.

• Identify two Indigenous arbitrators to be added to the list of arbitrators used in arbitration processes and listed in the collective agreement.

To review details of the bargaining process, a timeline of events, and all proposals from both parties, visit www.CollegeEmployerCouncil.ca

OPSEU’S RESPONSE

For months, CAAT-A (OPSEU) faculty have been bargaining for modest, realistic, but much-needed improvements to the college system. The CEC and the colleges have refused to address these issues, resulting in our successful strike vote in December.

As we predicted, the CEC has called for a forced offer vote (likely to be scheduled sometime in February). The CEC's offer is virtually identical to the one faculty already rejected in December.

The CEC has bypassed the bargaining team and our negotiator, and called for a forced offer vote-on an offer that again refuses to address faculty issues.

Nothing has changed from their last offer on November 23.

As a reminder, here's what's wrong with their offer:

• it allows for contracting out of all faculty work; and contains no protections for partial-load faculty, counsellors, librarians, or coordinators;

• it contains no changes to workload factors, which have remained unchanged since the 1980s;

• it does not acknowledge the need for faculty consent prior to the re-use or sale of their course materials;

• their proposed workload taskforce looks to expand two-tiering of faculty workload (including apprenticeship, aviation, academic upgrading, placements, and "other specialized programs");

• their proposed equity taskforce and roundtable on Truth and Reconciliation are all for show, and do not guarantee any changes at all in the next three years and beyond

• it contains no commitment to improved ability to bridge benefits for PL members, a group already without the same benefits as FT.

Faculty have already told the CEC that this offer isn't good enough for us and our students. Apparently, we need to reinforce this message loudly and clearly. They can take a forced offer vote only once, and this is a further attempt by the CEC to force their position on faculty.

If, following the rejection of their forced offer, the CEC continues to refuse to bargain faculty demands, the faculty team will leave open the door to voluntary binding interest arbitration (Editor’s Note: whereby an independent arbitrator could choose elements from each side’s proposal to create a new contract). The CEC could have chosen this path at any point to avoid further pressure on faculty and students.

Rejecting their offer takes away their last tool, and ensures that any final agreement will be better than this.

Vote to REJECT the employer's offer. We are bargaining for better: time for our students, quality education for all.