Confederation College professors have new collective bargaining agreement

The union representing about 150 Confederation College professors is calling a new collective bargaining agreement a "vindication."

Addresses academic freedom, job security issues

A binding arbitration and mediation process has resulted in a new, four-year collective bargaining agreement for full-time faculty at Ontario's public colleges. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

The union representing about 150 Confederation College professors is calling a new collective bargaining agreement a "vindication."

The details of the new agreement were announced Wednesday, and are the result of a binding mediation and arbitration process involving the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents college professors in the province, and the College Employer Council (CEC), which represents the colleges.

More than 12,000 full-time professors and others at Ontario's public colleges spent five weeks on the picket line this fall, returning to the classroom on November 20 after the province passed back-to-work legislation. The mediation and arbitration process was included in that legislation.

'Historic' deal

"We believe that we've made historic breakthrough gains, actually, that will impact the quality of education and the fairness within the system," said Rebecca Ward, president of OPSEU Local 732, which represents the Confederation College employees that took part in the strike.

"We're feeling very, very positive, in general," she said.

Confederation College president Jim Madder echoed the sentiment.

"I'm quite thrilled it's actually been done, and done in quite an expeditious fashion," he said. "It provides us with an opportunity to move ahead and focus on what we're best at, supporting student learning."

One major issue was academic freedom, which Ward said the new agreement addresses.

Also included in the agreement is language around job security, as well as a 7.75 per cent wage increase for faculty over four years, which is the term of the new contract.

"We also now have a return-to-work protocol, that acknowledges the work that is, and has been, required of faculty members to bring students back in after a five-week work stoppage," Ward said. "That is very significant, because we have faculty members that are currently working over 50 hours a week right now trying to make this happen for students in certain programs, and they have been denied, essentially, overtime requests."

Ward said there have been 46 workload-related grievances filed by union members since the strike ended.

The college, meanwhile, has extended the fall term into January to make up for some of the lost class time, and has said overtime requests were being considered on a case-by-case basis.

Academic freedom

Ward said the academic freedom provisions are important to faculty, as well.

"What this means is faculty members have control over what is going on in a classroom," she said, adding that it gives professors more say in things like which textbooks are used, or what type of testing is done.

Madder said he also appreciates the academic freedom portion of the deal.

"I quite support that, I quite support the way it was done, the context within the policies that we have around academic freedom," he said. "It was a good outcome."

The agreement also states the union and colleges will request the province create a task force made up of a number of stakeholders — including students, faculty, CEC representatives, parents and support staff — that will discuss and make recommendations on a number of issues, including precarious work, staffing, student success, accessibility, funding and academic governance.