Contract Talks Break Down In Effort To Find New Deal For Faculty

strike
A scene from the last faculty strike, in 2017.

Editor’s Note: While we don’t want to be alarmist, we must – as realists – note that a work-stoppage by faculty members at Ontario’s two dozen colleges at some point during this academic year is now a possibility, given the recent break-down in contract talks between management and labour.

That break-down is depicted – and “spun” – in the following two presentations: one by the College Employer Council, and the other by the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union.

MANAGEMENT’S POSITION

From a Media Release by the College Employer Council

Conciliation has ended, and bargaining between the College Employer Council (CEC) and the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU; Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology-Academic/CAAT-A) team representing full-time and partial-load faculty, librarians, and counsellors has reached an impasse.

Today (November 18), the CAAT-A team presented their bottom-line proposal and let the CEC know they are unwilling to move any further on key issues.

The CEC has asked for a No Board Report (from the provincial Ministry of Labour) as a result of the CAAT-A team's insistence on maintaining demands that the colleges cannot agree to.

For more than five months, the parties have been meeting without success. Mediation failed, and now conciliation has failed.

Neutral third-party assistance has not helped, and yet the CAAT-A team is now recommending an arbitrator make decisions on their behalf. During conciliation, the CAAT-A team proposed sending all of the outstanding issues to voluntary binding interest arbitration. This would result in the imposition of the terms of a collective agreement by a third party.

"In a labour relations context, the parties have the fundamental obligation to bargain. Delegating that obligation to an arbitrator abdicates our shared responsibility. The CAAT-A team's approach to bargaining also remains, as Mediator Keller said, faulty, as it is not meant to reach an agreement through negotiations," said Graham Lloyd, CEO of CEC. "After five months of bargaining, we are not prepared to give away the agency to make fundamental changes to the collective agreement to a third party."

"The CEC team has tabled four separate offers since February. The parties appeared to move close to a deal before conciliation, but then discussions stalled. The CAAT-A team has maintained demands that Mediator Keller said in his report were unreasonable and had no chance of leading to a negotiated agreement. We have, therefore, asked the Conciliator to issue a No Board Report. The CAAT-A team is clearly no longer interested in bargaining. We believe that we have no choice but to move the process forward,", said Dr. Laurie Rancourt, Chair of the CEC Management Bargaining team. "The colleges do not want students and employees to be negatively impacted because of the unwillingness of the CAAT-A team to bargain in good faith and work towards concluding a collective agreement."

After more than seven days to consider the CEC offer, the CAAT-A team tabled a revised proposal that showed no significant movement, and maintained untenable demands which they know the colleges cannot accept. Essentially, the CAAT-A team presented their proposal as a “take-it-or-leave-it” offer, stating they were unprepared to move any further on any of their key issues.

A No Board Report allows both parties to move the bargaining process towards conclusion. The CEC remains committed to concluding a collective agreement, and a No Board Report does not prevent that. Rather, moving the process forward in this way adds pressure for both parties to compromise and reach a settlement. As the CAAT-A team is currently not willing to move, a No Board Report is the only path forward.

The CAAT-A team might say that this is an escalation. It is not. A No Board Report is an indispensable tool available to both parties. It acknowledges that bargaining has reached an impasse. The CAAT-A team might say that the colleges will lock-out faculty. We will never lock-out faculty. The CAAT-A team might say that this leads to a strike. As a reminder, the CEC cannot initiate a strike, only the CAAT-A team can. Strikes start with strike votes.

Currently, the settlement proposals from both parties are very close in many of the areas of shared interest. The CEC cannot surpass the limitations of Bill 124 (proposals on full-time and partial-load workload), nor can the colleges agree to remove decision-making abilities from faculty and managers and place them in the hands of arbitrators. We encourage everyone to review both the CEC and the CAAT-A team proposals on www.collegeemployercouncil.ca

LABOUR’S POSITION

From a Facebook Message to Members of the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union

Today, your faculty bargaining team returned to the bargaining table, to resume negotiations with the assistance of a Conciliation Officer appointed by the Ministry of Labour. It was the first day that we have met with the College Employer Council (CEC) bargaining team in a week, despite our offer for additional days earlier this week.

We commenced the day by providing a new Offer of Settlement that features an attempt to move closer to agreement, and which ensures that faculty’s needs are addressed in concrete terms now in the key areas of Workload, Partial-Load, Equity and Indigeneity, and Protections of Faculty Instructional Materials.

Since our latest offer incorporates additional language proposed by the CEC team in their last offer, we believe that the two sides’ are close on some areas. Indeed, even three of the CEC’s recent publications claim that “CEC and CAAT-A proposals are very similar”.

Noting how close the two sides are, and noting that there is very little room for the faculty team to compromise further, we made a formal offer to the CEC, to have both teams agree to voluntary binding arbitration to avoid escalation leading to labour disruption.

Unfortunately, we regret to inform you that our efforts to find common ground and achieve a settlement through negotiations or a mutually-agreed process were unsuccessful.  Specifically:

• The CEC team rejected our latest Offer of Settlement;

• The CEC team rejected our offer to refer all outstanding issues to voluntary binding arbitration;

• The CEC team requested that the Conciliator file a No Board Report, which is a legally-required step towards labour disruption, including lock-out, strike, or Imposed Terms and Conditions of Employment.

While the CEC’s conduct is regrettable, it is nevertheless typical of their behaviour throughout the bargaining process, which has been marked by tactics that escalate towards labour conflict. These tactics include requesting conciliation – a first necessary step on the legal path to labour disruption – and filing legal complaints in the middle of the bargaining process.

The CEC team’s request for the Conciliator to file a No Board Report is dismaying, as it indicates that the CEC team is unwilling to counter the faculty team’s compromises with compromises of its own. We note that the CEC team’s current Offer of Settlement fails to meet our members’ needs and our students’ needs in its current form, since;

• It fails to include any necessary increase in time attributed for evaluating student writing or projects;

• It fails to include any necessary increase in time attributed for teaching classes with an online component;

• It fails to provide the necessary transparency for the Partial-Load faculty;

• It creates new limits on which Partial-Load faculty are eligible for inclusion in the Partial-Load Registry;

• It proposes three committee structures to address issues including workload; Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; and Indigenization, Decolonization, and Truth & Reconciliation. But the lack of adequate dispute mechanisms in these structures means that the CEC will be able to effectively “veto” any effective change that might otherwise come out of them;

• It proposes language that would permit greater contracting-out of counsellors’ work;

• It prevents Union Locals from filing staffing grievances to create new full-time positions and replace retirees, for the next three years.

Since the CEC team has effectively turned its back on negotiations, and the faculty team has used every tool we can to avoid escalation, it is now up to all of us to stand together for our priorities. To demonstrate faculty power at the table, the team needs you to show your support – to show this employer that faculty need change now and that faculty are willing to stand up for ourselves, for each other, and for our students.

The faculty team’s current Offer of Settlement includes concrete proposals to address the immediate needs of faculty and students related to online course delivery, additional time to evaluate student work, along with no-cost improvements to better the working conditions of partial-load faculty. These are balanced with other proposals for effective structures to address longer term needs in the areas of Workload (including Partial-Load workload); Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; and Indigeneity, Decolonization, and Truth & Reconciliation.

We believe that management’s current offer is designed to ensure that necessary change does not occur now or in the next three years. The faculty team’s offer is designed to ensure that necessary change begins now, and grows through the life of our next Collective Agreement.

Now that the CEC team has walked away from negotiations and rejected the faculty team’s offer for voluntary binding arbitration, they have left faculty with literally no choice than to organize in favour of the faculty offer. We ask that you prepare for this by ensuring that your Union Local can reach you at a non-college email address and phone number, and that you participate in upcoming solidarity actions, digital pickets, and local events.  We will be in touch very soon with next steps.

Together we are strong; together we can demand that the employer agree to reasonable improvements needed by faculty and students.