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College teaching job turns into 'volunteer work', say contract profs

OPSEU says that protections for "precarious workers"—including 200 partial load professors on strike and hundreds of other part-timers not represented by the union— is one of the reasons for the walkout.

Of 776 college professors on strike in the northeast, 206 are contract teachers

Brigitte Gagnon is a partial load professor in the esthetics program at College Boreal in Sudbury. (Erik White/CBC )

Picket duty for the past two weeks has made Brigitte Gagnon's schedule at College Boreal a bit more regular. 

But the partial load professor in the esthetics program has been putting in fewer hours at her other job, managing a Sudbury spa.

"Sometimes I'm teaching say nine hours a week, some semesters I'm teaching six. Never know what classes I'm going to teach, so it's a little struggle," says Gagnon, who's been teaching at Boreal since 2011.

She says the pay fluctuates as well, depending on how many total classes she has on her plate. Gagnon says she sometimes gets $44 an hour, other times $70.

But that's only for when she's in the classroom teaching, not prepping lessons or marking or answering emails from students.

"It will not not answer them because I'm only paid for the three hours, for example. It makes it hard. Makes it hard. But you think of the students and not yourself."

Gagnon says it means a lot of "volunteer work."

"Like for a three hour class, you're putting in 10 to 15 hours," she says.

Professors picket in front of Canadore College in North Bay, which shares a campus with Nipissing University. (North Bay and District Labour Council )

David Hamilton has taught sociology and psychology classes at Canadore College in North Bay since 2009, which means 22 back-to-back contracts.

Since the strike he crunched the numbers and figured out that his average annual income is around $20,000.

"By the time I pay my rent, buy groceries and maybe put a little bit away because I don't get a pension plan, it's a real struggle to make ends meet," Hamilton says.

He says he's thought about getting another job, but loves what he does. He knows of other contract professors who get other work on the side, like waiting tables in restaurants.

"They're using contract people to still get the same quality of work out of them, but then make shortcuts by not offering them pensions, not offering them benefits, so they're saving lots and lots of money, basically trying to use volunteer work," says Hamilton.

Some 12,000 college professors across Ontario, including at College Boreal in Sudbury, have been on strike since Oct. 16. (Erik White/CBC )

The number of part-time professors at Ontario colleges has ballooned over the past few decades.

"It's basically driven by the need to balance the books and you balance the books on the backs of low paid workers," says Charles Pascal, who teaches at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

He was also once Ontario's deputy minister of education and was president of Sir Sanford Fleming College during the 1984 professor strike, when the union demand for more academic decision making was also a major issue.

Pascal says the simple solution to most college problems is for the province to give them more money.

The union has proposed hiring more full-time profs until they are handling half of the classes, which the colleges say will cost taxpayers an extra $250 million per year.

Pascal says he isn't taking sides in the dispute, but does wish that college faculty would stop negotiating on a province-wide basis and have units at each campus, like Ontario universities do.

"The system wide bargaining means that the worst kind of behaviour at colleges usually ends up on the bargaining table and it wags the whole system," Pascal says.

He argues that individual colleges where administrators and union brass don't have good relationships end up "holding thousands of students hostage" across Ontario and that the other colleges should "let them pay the price."

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury, Ont. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca