News Local

Algonquin College faculty begin strike

By Celina Ip

Dozens of Algonquin College staff have been manning the picket lines for nearly three weeks since a job action began. Today, both sides are supposed to return to the bargaining table. Pictured in front (from left) are Sheila O'Brien, Dan Labelle, Paul McGuire, Rhonda Halliday, Angela Woollam, Angela Rintoul, Diana Komejan, Barb Clarke and Pauline Edmonds. Pictured in back (from left) are Colin Boucher, Donna Cushman, Wendy Moon, Erroll Downey, Alison Jones and Adam Johns.

Dozens of Algonquin College staff have been manning the picket lines for nearly three weeks since a job action began. Today, both sides are supposed to return to the bargaining table. Pictured in front (from left) are Sheila O'Brien, Dan Labelle, Paul McGuire, Rhonda Halliday, Angela Woollam, Angela Rintoul, Diana Komejan, Barb Clarke and Pauline Edmonds. Pictured in back (from left) are Colin Boucher, Donna Cushman, Wendy Moon, Erroll Downey, Alison Jones and Adam Johns.

PEMBROKE - 

On Oct 16, faculty at Algonquin College took to the picket line, beginning day one of the work stoppage.

 

The college is among 23 other educational institutions associated with the province-wide faculty strike that will be affecting more than 500,000 students combined. The Algonquin College Waterfront Campus currently has an enrolment of more than 1,030 full-time students who will be affected by the strike.

“My key concern is bringing our academic employees back to work in a harmonious way so that we get back to work in a good way – that’s of course paramount to me,” said Algonquin College president Cheryl Jensen. “Also, I’m very committed to the students and want to ensure that they complete their year. Before this work stoppage, we've had three other academic work stoppages in the college’s 50 year history and no student has ever been denied the right to complete their year, so of course we have that same principle in place for this work stoppage as well.”

After officially kicking off on Monday at 12:01 a.m., by early morning there more than 12,000 full and part-time staff taking to the picket line and protesting for ‘quality education’ at their colleges across the province.

The faculty’s representing union, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), stated that the key issues include improving quality education, providing fair treatment to contract faculty and giving faculty and students more of a voice in academic decisions. They further stated that 81 per cent of college teaching is done by contract faculty, who have no job security and are paid significantly less than full-time permanent faculty.

“Our union team has been clear about its goals since bargaining began in early July,” J.P. Hornick, chairman of the OPSEU negotiating team said in a statement. “We have put forward concrete proposals to improve education quality by including the voices of faculty and students in academic decisions; we have made the case for strengthening the complement of full-time faculty; and we have called on the colleges to read the signals from Queen’s Park and start treating contract faculty fairly.”

Here in Pembroke, dozens of full-time and part-time faculty members were picketing in front of the college from morning until late afternoon.

“Faculty and related staff feel very very strongly that the quality of education is compromised by not having enough full-time people. Our department here in Pembroke has literally 20 per cent full-time and 80 per cent part-time faculty. It's very difficult on part-time faculty as they’re stretched thin and they're not paid equitably at all,” said Algonquin College professor Barb Clarke. “How do we deliver quality education with a faculty that is so stretched and so under-resourced?”

Clarke added that she’s hoping for the best and that the bargaining can be resolved quickly and harmoniously.

“The students need to have a really good experience that sets them up for success in the workplace. We do our best every day to do that, but we feel like we're against a really big tide,” said Clarke. “We're certainly hoping that it gets resolved quickly and that they can at least go back to the table and start talking about plans that move us in a better direction with more a balance.”

With no definite timeline to the strike, several students are concerned about the impact that it will have on their studies.

“I just hope the strike doesn't last too long. I wouldn't want this affecting any students’ years. Most of us have worked really hard to get here. It would be a shame if we had to redo our semester,” said student Natalie Mooy.

Jensen expressed that the students’ years will not be in danger and that necessary supports will be made available.

“We're meeting daily as a team in contingency planning and we have the president of the Student Association Victoria Ventura on that team with us,” said Jensen. “We're looking at day-by-day and week-by-week what plans have to be put in place by individual programs to ensure that students can complete their year. So we have what we call 'learning outcomes' for each one of our programs and those learning outcomes have to be completed for the students to obtain their credential – in many cases those learning outcomes are not time-based, so there are other ways that we can complete those outcomes.”

In the meantime, Jensen encourages students to continue with their studies independently so that they can hit the ground running once faculty return and classes resume.

“I encourage them to keep working on their studies, don’t give up, stay engaged and keep coming to the campus,” said Jensen. “If they need help, there are lots of us who are still at work at the campus that can help them.”

cip@postmedia.com