'What it takes to get what they need': Mohawk students, professors navigate strike Day 1

The province-wide strike affects more than 500,000 students. Here's how it is affecting one Mohawk College student and a professor walking the picket line.

'We want the college to realize that we care about the professors & we want to get back to learning': Student

Picketers from OPSEU Local 240 crossed an intersection on West Fifth Street near an entrance to the Mohawk College campus. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Maggie Martin doesn't have class on Mondays.

But the 21-old Mohawk College student was supposed to have a test for her management accounting course. She and others were studying Sunday night when they got word their professors were going on strike.

On a chilly Monday morning, Mohawk professors were out picketing, calling particular attention to a labour dispute over short-term, temporary contracts that 70 per cent of Mohawk faculty members are employed under.

Classes are suspended during the strike.

"It does affect the students a lot," Martin said. "We are paying for our education."

"But if this is what it takes to get what they need, I can totally understand why they're doing it."

Accepting the union's demands would add more than $250 million to annual costs, the College Employer Council said in a statement, eliminating thousands of contract faculty jobs and "jeopardizing the quality of college programs." The strike went into effect at midnight.

Signs on the picket line draw attention to the short-term and less secure contracts that 70 per cent of faculty members at Mohawk are employed under. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Martin signed her name along with more than 45,000 others across Ontario to a petition calling for reimbursements for students who miss days of classes during the strike.

"It's just like trying to get them to notice that students actually care about their education," Martin said, "and we want the college to realize that we care about the professors and we want to get back to learning."

Mohawk College has stated there will be no refunds due to a strike. The province-wide strike among Ontario public college faculty has shut down classes and apprenticeship programs at Mohawk College in Hamilton and Niagara College.

Mary Allan teaches nursing at Mohawk College. She was out picketing at the McMaster campus, because the college's Institute for Applied Health Sciences is there.

Allan said the picket at McMaster was to share information about the precarity of faculty's jobs. Nursing students are still able to go to class for their courses that are taught by McMaster professors.

A professor walks the picket line next to Mohawk College campus Monday morning. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

"We were all hopeful that we wouldn't be here," she said. "We're disappointed that the two parties weren't able to come to an agreement."

Allan said it's "disappointing" that so many of her colleagues are on contracts that last 12 to 15 weeks.

"It's very precarious," she said. "Are they going to be offered another semester? It's really difficult. There's a lot of uncertainty."

Allan was on faculty at Mohawk 11 years ago, when the union last went on strike. That strike lasted three-and-a-half weeks until the professors were legislated back to work.

Martin, the student, said she will go to work tomorrow in the learning support centre, where she works as a scheduler and assistant for peer tutors.

"I've never actually dealt with a strike before," she said. "I'm hoping it's not what you think it is, where they're calling you names for trying to cross the picket line."

Mohawk President Ron McKerlie responded to someone on Twitter who suggested the professors' action disrespected the students.

About the Author

Kelly Bennett

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Kelly Bennett is an award-winning reporter who lives in Hamilton. She grew up in Victoria and covered economics and arts as an investigative reporter in San Diego. She loves digging into great stories, hiking and playing the violin. Drop her a line anytime at kelly.bennett@cbc.ca.