College support staff: Fighting for future generations

(From OPSEU website)
Karrie Ouchas, In Solidarity

Think back to the days when you attended college. Other than your fellow students and the teachers, your interactions with support staff were likely limited. Yet, every day a warm lunch was ready for you, IT folks were available when the computers stopped working the way they should and the building was always clean and well maintained. The classroom equipment appeared when needed, there was always someone available to help you with your loan application, class scheduling or to help students with special needs. These people are the unsung heroes of the colleges. These people are the backbone of the post-secondary education system.

More than 8,000 College of Applied Arts and Technology (CAAT) support staff went on strike for 18 days in September 2011. The strike ended with the ratification of a new contract with a resounding 87 per cent in favour of the tentative deal, successfully fending off concessions that would have further eroded job security.

“The last strike we had was in 1979. A lot of that strike had the same underlying issues that we face today; the lack of respect for the work we do in the colleges today,” said Rod Bemister, OPSEU Bargaining Chair. The strike was about maintaining the current working conditions, fighting off the numerous concessions the employer wanted and eliminating a two-tier system.

Over the past three decades, colleges have increased the number of part-time support staff hired. This allows colleges to pay lower wages and to avoid paying benefits. The number of good full-time jobs is being reduced and the work is undervalued. In this round of bargaining, the employer wanted many concessions and claw backs that directly threatened job security. The employer also wanted different contract language/terms for new hires, creating a two-tier system.

Another obstacle faced by the bargaining team was the changes made to the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act that highly favour college employers. Some of the employer-friendly amendments included:

  • The ability to force a contract vote within 15 days before the expiry of the Collective Agreement
  • The ability to decrease the bargaining cycle
  • The ability to have support staff cross the picket line and go to work; and
  • The ability to impose terms and conditions of work after the expiry date of the contract

This was the first time support staff bargained under the changes to this legislation; CAAT Academic bargained under these legislative changes in 2010. The employer forced a contract vote, which resulted in a poor offer being accepted with support of only 51 per cent of the voting members.

“We believe, generally, that the students and parents were supportive once they understood the reasons for the strike,” says Bemister. “The message to the students who were impacted is that we stood up and fight for our jobs, which are good jobs, and rejecting conditions that threaten those jobs. This fight must go beyond just college support staff but to every workplace across the province. The reason for that is simple. When we allow conditions which take away from the conditions of work we currently have, the prospect of graduating and attaining a good job when they complete their education becomes diminished.”

College Workers endorse tentative contract settlement

(TORONTO – October 4, 2011) – Support workers at 24 community colleges in Ontario today endorsed a tentative contract settlement reached last month with management.The workers, represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, voted 87 per cent in favour of the tentative deal which was reached Sept. 18 following an 18-day strike.“By the results of this vote our members have wholeheartedly said they approve the deal their negotiating team reached at the contract table,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “The members said all along they wanted a good deal and today they delivered their stamp of approval.”Rod Bemister, chair of OPSEU’s bargaining team on behalf of 8,000 full-time college support workers, said the vote demonstrated that members were determined to maintain good jobs.“Our members enjoy their work, but they weren’t prepared to give up provisions in their contract that have taken many rounds of negotiations to achieve,” said Bemister. “I’m pleased to say that we have maintained the strength of our contract and, in fact, have built on it.”

Join CLiFF for a free night of films

The Canadian Labour International Film Festival (CLiFF) is presenting an exciting lineup of FREE films! In conjunction with the festival, the North Simcoe Muskoka and District Labour Council is sponsoring a film night at the Georgian College Orillia Campus theatre on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 6:30 to 9 p.m.

CLiFF is Canada’s first national film festival. Taking place annually during Labour Film Month, CLiFF provides free screenings of films made by, for and about workers around the world.

The following films will be shown at Georgian on Nov. 30:

Breathtaking - This film takes on the asbestos industry through a moving and personal investigation into the death of a woman’s father from a rare cancer, and the confounding present-day use of asbestos in Canada and other countries that continues to exact a human toll.

Locked Out - This David and Goliath story reveals how 560 unionized miners in California refused to accept wage and benefit cuts by their employer, Rio Tinto, a giant multinational mining company.

Triangle: Remembering the Fire - This film marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the story of a great uprising of young women, whose protest ended tragically. The film also stands as a cautionary tale about the dangers of returning to the attitudes of the Gilded Age.

Visit www.labourfilms.ca for more information or contact Doris Middleton at 705-238-8003.