- by David McLaren

The strike by the faculty of Ontario community colleges continues. It's not about the money – the colleges and the teachers are practically agreed on that. And it's not about benefits or shorter work hours.

It's about precarious work.

Although student enrolment has gone up, the numbers of full time teachers have gone down. Instead, the colleges are relying on 'partial load' professors (those with contracts for 6-12 hours a week of instruction) and part time teachers (those with less than 6 hours). The former are part of the union; part time instructors are not. Both are on contracts that last only as long as the semester – about 4 months. Together, they make up most of the faculty in community colleges. At Georgian College in Owen Sound, full time profs are only 10% of the teaching faculty.

I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to be represented by a part time lawyer, or have my car serviced by a weekend mechanic. If someone knows their stuff well enough to be hired to teach it to our children, then I want them on the job, engaged, and available to my kids full time.

Partial and part time professors are paid for their teaching time, but not for their preparation time, or to mark sometimes hundreds of papers, or to mentor students after class, or to take on extracurricular activities, although some do.

That's a lot of work for roughly $35,000 a year – and that's if you manage to secure contracts for 3 semesters in a row. No wonder there's such a high turnover of teachers in community colleges.

None of this is conducive for a good education. And that's why you'll find full time faculty, partial load professors, students and even some part time teachers walking the line at Georgian College.

Their union has put a modest offer on the table: that at least half of college faculty be full time. But the colleges are pleading poverty, saying they can't afford it. That's a bit rich when you learn that college presidents have been lobbying the government for increases in their own pay of up to 50%.

Nevertheless, during talks in early November the colleges and the faculty seemed close to an agreement. Then, abruptly, the colleges stopped bargaining. They pulled their current concessions off the table and demanded the union accept what was essentially a much earlier proposal – a proposal the union had rejected back in September. The colleges have now asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board to force a vote of union members.

What gives? Are the colleges trying to break the strike? It's certainly an end run around the bargaining table. Why were the colleges so agreeable in the last little while only to insist on their earlier position? No one to whom I've spoken knows. Maybe DS Consulting, the colleges' PR firm, knows. All I know is there was enough on the table to put students and their teachers back in the classroom by now.


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