Algonquin College students frustrated as strike drags on

Students at Algonquin College are frustrated that after four weeks negotiations between the faculty union and college management have reached an impasse.

Tuition, missed classes top students' list of concerns as talks between faculty and management break down

Algonquin College faculty members picket on Woodroffe Avenue after the 12,000 employees from 24 colleges across Ontario went on strike on Oct. 16, 2017. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Students at Algonquin College are frustrated that three weeks after their professors walked off the job, negotiations between the faculty union and college management have reached another impasse.

After walking away from the bargaining table Monday, the College Employer Council, which represents the province's 24 colleges, is asking Ontario's Labour Relations Board to schedule a vote on its latest offer.

That's our tuition money going down the drain. A lot of us worked hard for this money.- Amber McAdam, student

It has also called on the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union to suspend the strike in the five to 10 days it will take to organize the vote. 

More than 12,000 faculty walked off the job Oct. 16.

Tuition, missed classes biggest concerns

Students sit with laptops and books scattered around them, filling Algonquin's Student Commons area, even though classes are cancelled. They are trying to get in whatever studying they can as they wait for classes to resume.

"It's frustrating," said Amber McAdam, 21, a first-year student in the aircraft maintenance technician program. She was visibly upset after reading talks between the two sides had broken down and the strike could drag on even longer.

"That's our tuition money going down the drain," she said. "A lot of us worked hard for this money, working part-time jobs, full-time jobs just so we can come to school."

She said she's also worried about having to make up missed hours in an intensive program that's already crammed with classes.

"Our program runs longer than others and we can't cut corners."

Other students said it was ridiculous that they are still expected to pay for classes they can't attend.

A lot of students need to attend specific classes to be able to complete the year and be ready for their field placements, said Katlyn Bonner, who's in her first year of the child and youth care program.

The strike also puts financial strain on students who can't receive bursaries until the strike is over, she said.

Amber McAdam says it's frustrating the strike has dragged on for weeks. She's worried about having to make up for missed hours in the intensive aircraft maintenance technician program. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Impasse over academic freedom

By the time talks broke down many of the issues between faculty and college management had been resolved, said JP Hornick, chair of the faculty bargaining team.

But the two sides remain at an impasse over academic freedom, Hornick said, which would give faculty the ability to make decisions in their classrooms on a day-to-day basis.

Pat Kennedy, president of the faculty union at Algonquin College, said the strike has been dragging on too long and that students should be looking for reimbursement.

"I suggested that they look for a refund. I mean, it's ridiculous," he said.

Colleges should be better informing students of what the exact plans are to have them finish the year or offer them their money back, he added. 

Kennedy said he believes calling a vote will further delay the strike's end. If the college's offer is rejected by faculty, the strike will resume two weeks later, he said. 

Since the strike started, Algonquin's President Cheryl Jensen has been reassuring students they will be able to complete their academic year. But with the work stoppage into its fourth week, she couldn't say what would happen if teachers aren't back in the classroom soon.

Algonquin College President Cheryl Jensen says contingency plans are in place for a six-week-long strike but won't speculate about what could happen if the strike drags on longer. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

"This is new territory for all of us to have a strike that's going on this long," Jensen said.

"It's deeply distressing that our students will not be back in the classroom today or tomorrow."

The college has made plans in the event of a six-week strike but Jensen didn't elaborate on what those plans entail. So far, the plan is still to have students finish the year on time at the end of April, she said.

But students like McAdam, who are caught in the middle of the dispute, believe the strike has gone on long enough.

"I want them to go back to the table and come to a [settlement]. Because everybody wants to get back to school," she said.