Hundreds of faculty, students and supporters turned out to a strike solidarity rally at Humber College’s Lakeshore campus.
Speeches, performances, and chants dominated the one-hour long event held on 23rd St meters down the pavement from Lake Shore Blvd. Those engaging the masses stood on the back of a pick-up truck organizers said had been provided by the union.
JP Hornick, chair of the college union negotiating team, went through the history of negotiations this year in a speech that includes chants and a message of support.
Hornick said that if the Ontario Public Services Employees Union gave into college demands at any point earlier this year the deal would not have a solution.
The OPSEU negotiator said the College Employer Council had spent this week attempting to “bully” the union team. Hornick explained that on Thursday the Council had threatened to let the strike go on for six weeks.
The rally master of ceremonies Pam Johnson said, picketing has been scheduled for outside Debbie Matthews’ office, the Ontario government minister in charge of the post-secondary portfolio, next Wednesday.
At 7:30 am on Oct 25, all picketers from across Toronto’s colleges will convene at 90 Bay St for the protest outside Matthews’ office, with a massive rally scheduled for 11 am.
“Of course we want both sides to get back to the table,” Matthews said earlier this week.
However, Hornick said that while a parliament bill numbered 148 was a step in the right direction, it was not enough to address what OPSEU is seeking for teachers, librarians and counsellors that are part of the union.
Due to a deadline passing for negotiations between OPSEU and the Ontario Employers Council on Sunday, a strike came into effect on Oct 16 for Ontario’s 24 public colleges. Since then, faculty have been picketing unable to enter their schools.
James Compton of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, who is in Toronto for a conference on staff contracts, said that “your issues are our issues.”
Compton expressed solidarity on behalf of the college faculty’s counterparts in the university stream, saying that contract security is a struggle across Canada.
“We are with you until the end,” Compton said.
Energy at the rally was high for its majority, but perhaps its pinnacle came near the end when Mohammed Ali the “Socialist Vocalist” took to the pick-up and rapped out nearly ten minutes worth of smooth bars on union’s and employer mistreatment.
Ali spoke to workers’ issues across Canada as well as some specific to education.
What are the union demands?
According to a pamphlet made by two college librarians, there are five reasons faculty are on strike.
The first bullet point is the headline “we need more full-time faculty”, the top sticking point for a majority of union members the Post has questioned. The union says full-time faculty numbers are decreasing while the student population increases year-to-year.
Likely the biggest issue raised during Friday’s rally, and second on the pamphlet, was that contract faculty members need job security.
Those on contract need to re-apply every semester to continue to hold a job, and a majority of college faculty are on this system.
Rally MC Johnson said that she has been a contract faculty for 18 years, with others even longer. This was met with boo’s and jeers.
Number three on the list is equal work deserving equal pay. Faculty that aren’t full time are not being paid for the time they spend preparing for courses, marking academic submissions and out-of-class support.
Paula Greenberg told the Post at the rally that many teachers in her Child and Youth Services program at Humber College worked in their field as well as teaching, as they were not employed full-time.
“Quality of life for my teachers is important because it effects my education,” Greenberg explained.
She said with part-time faculty they didn’t have enough time to properly “address questions, meet students outside of class and explain lectures”, causing both the teacher and the student stress.
Local union executive board member Myles Magner spoke on the fourth pamphlet point, saying that academic decisions require faculty input.
Magner called on a “Senate or some way to craft academic work.”
Mohammed Ali had also touched on that, saying that he had seen success at Ryerson where both faculty and students had input on their academic content.
The reason for why Ontario college faculty are on strike is that the ratio between counsellors and students need to be balanced for the sake of the students.
Strikers say the college administrations are now “moving to outsource” the work of counselors, which OPSEU says gives “less accessibility to adequate and meaningful mental health coverage for students.”
Andrea Babbington of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council told those gathered that she applauded their courage in “standing up to the boss.”
Babbington said the Ontario Federation of Labour supported the strikers in their fight against the “exploitation of the worker” and encouraged the masses to “keep up the fight, sisters, and brothers!”
“We are with youth community is with you, the students are with you!”
Students support at rally
College students came out in droves to the rally on Friday, with a group called “Humber Voice Now” performed a rendition of the popular Queen song “We Will Rock You”.
The students replaced the chorus line with “we want classes” in support for a return to the bargaining table and an end to the strike.
A Change.org petition started by two Humber students has accumulated over 93,000 signatures asking to end the strike and get a refund for the missed days.
Several faculty that the Post connected with at the rally said they agreed with the refund for students.
The Post asked the union representing the university faculty at Guelph-Humber if there would be a chance of a refund for GH students. The response was a firm “no”.
Students have been active on picket lines at all 24 public colleges, with some even starting their own petitions in support of strikers.