Both sides praise arbitrator ruling in college faculty labour dispute

Both the union and the body that represents Ontario's public colleges are praising an arbitrator's ruling that addresses outstanding issues of a labour dispute that lasted five weeks and closed classrooms for half a million Ontario students.

A local union representative and the body that represents Ontario's public colleges are praising an arbitrator's ruling today that addresses outstanding issues of a labour dispute that lasted five weeks and closed classrooms for half a million Ontario students. 

Arbitrator William Kaplan's ruling enshrines in the collective bargaining agreement language about academic freedom, a key issue for the union during the strike that ended when the province passed back-to-work legislation in late November. 

Darryl Bedford, a Fanshawe College professor and a member of the local bargaining group represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said the academic freedom language makes this a "landmark" decision. 

"This is something that is fundamental in post-secondary education and now we've got it right in a contract," said Bedford. "I think this sets the stage for what the college system should be and can be."

Bedford said the arbitrator "has concluded that most of the union's positions should be adopted."

The arbitrator's ruling also includes: 

  • A four-year contract with wage increases of 1.75 per cent (retroactive to Oct. 1, 2017), with increases of two per cent in the following three years. 
  • Establishes a seniority system for partial-load (part-time) faculty (who teach seven to 12 hours per week). The system will be maintained through the use of a registry.
  • A provincial task force to examine faculty complement, precarious work, provincial funding of the colleges and other issues. During the strike the union was pushing for a 50-50 split between full- and part-time instructors. 

The Ontario colleges issued a statement saying they are "very pleased" with the  arbitrator's award.

"We have a workable award that is in the best interests of all parties and we want to thank the arbitrator for his efforts," said Sonia Del Missier, Chair, Colleges' Bargaining Team. "The strike has been a terrible experience for our students and everyone affected. We will be focused on rebuilding our positive working relationship with faculty that is in the best interests of the colleges, our students, and our communities."

About 12,000 college professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians walked off the job in mid-October, to kick off what became the longest faculty strike in Ontario college history.

After a weekend legislature sitting both sides were legislated by to work in late November with both sides forced into binding mediation-arbitration.

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Andrew Lupton

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Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.