As deadline looms, Kingston’s SLC Faculty Union members ‘ready to strike’

Those members of the OPSEU Local 417, the St. Lawrence College (SLC) Faculty Union are currently waiting “on pins and needles” as the deadline for their pending strike action looms.

The St. Lawrence College campus in Kingston on Thursday, Mar. 17, 2022, just hours before the deadline for negotiations between OPSEU College Faculty Workers and the College Employer Council must reach an agreement, in order to prevent the Faculty Workers striking on Friday, Mar. 18, 2022. Photo by Penny Cadue.

“I’m planning two things for tomorrow,” Local 417 President Grant Currie said late in the afternoon on Thursday, Mar. 17, 2022.

“I’m planning to be in class with my students at 12:30 p.m., teaching them labour relations,” he continued, “And I have plans that see me organizing a picket.”

If an agreement is not reached by midnight tonight between college faculty workers across Ontario – represented by OPSEU – and the College Employer Council (CEC), the former are in position to strike. And they will, said Currie, here in Kingston, and at the SLC campuses in Cornwall and Brockville.

“I would say they are resolved,” Currie said of the Local 417 members, who remained in work-to-rule positioning for three months before moving towards strike position. OPSEU members at SLC received word on Monday, Mar. 4, 2022, confirming they would strike effective Friday, Mar. 18, 2022, should the two parties fail to come to an agreement at the bargaining table.

The standstill in negotiations has nothing to do with wages or a wage increase, a point College Faculty Union members have continually underlined throughout the negotiating process. Among the sticking points for those College Faculty Workers with OPSEU are around the contracting out of work by College Employers, and the lack of time available to dedicate to student marking – a framework which hasn’t changed in over 30 years, Currie explained.

“You know, there are colleges that have contracted out services like counselling for students. We are looking for protections for that type of thing… we want counsellors to be part of our bargaining and part of the work that we do,” he said, having just discussed the most pressing matters in a general meeting of the Local 417 prior to the interview.

“We talked quite a bit about the workload issues, the fact that our workload formula hasn’t been changed since 1984,” he continued, noting that, while this particular issue can be complicated to understand, he uses the example of group work as a relevant aspect many people understand.

“You know, students hate group work, but if I’m only given so much time per week, I can only mark so many papers. So, I would love to be able to provide individual work, but the time that I would need is taken up,” he said.

Full details from the OPSEU Local 417 with regard to their Collective Agreement and current negotiations with the CEC are available here.

Currie spoke to the “tough spot to be in” the current situation presents for himself and his fellow SLC Faculty members, who would much prefer to be in classrooms and schools doing what they do best, but feel the need to stand up for their professional needs, he said. However, over the past couple of weeks leading up to the potential strike, Currie said he has had the opportunity to speak with more and more students who have expressed interest in learning more about the negotiations and issues at hand — a positive for union members who both want and need students to understand the situation.

“The power really is in their hands,” Currie said of the students.

“Students see the work that we do, you know? People like Glenn [Vollebregt, SLC CEO and President] don’t see the work that we do. We’re in touch with the students all the time. And we have the support of the students,” he continued. “But they really need to exercise their power and their ability to put pressure on the college presidents, like Glenn, to agree to final interest arbitration and just stop the nonsense.”

And while the SLC College Faculty union members – many of whom recall the strike that took place just five years ago – are ready to strike, they are still holding out hope that an agreement is reached before midnight. But whether or not that’s likely is entirely unknown, Currie relayed.

“I have had no communications,” Currie said of any updates from the Collective Bargaining Team. However, “faculty and our team have been organizing events for tomorrow in the event that the strike deadline passes, and we are, indeed, on strike,” he asserted.

Should the deadline pass without a resolution, picketing will begin at the SLC campus in Kingston at 10 a.m. on Friday, Mar. 18, 2022.

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