Ontario Tech University faculty vow to stay on strike until they get 'a good deal' on workload
‘Our workload concerns predate the pandemic, COVID-19 only exacerbated them,’ member says
More than 280 faculty members at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa are vowing they will remain on strike until they get an acceptable deal on their workload and other issues.
The University of Ontario Institute of Technology Faculty Association (UOITFA) said its members walked off the job on Thursday after negotiating for nine months and almost 30 sessions at the bargaining table. Talks broke down in recent weeks.
"We've been through two rounds of mediation with the university and we simply can't get them to move on some very important priorities that have been established by our members," said Mike Eklund, the chief negotiating officer for the faculty.
"The biggest one is the workload … that our members are dealing with where they're not recognizing things like supervision of undergraduate and graduate students and they're not taking into consideration members' preferences for mode of delivery and many other things relating to workload."
Eklund said other issues include benefits for all members, and retirement benefits.
"We simply don't understand why they are not willing to move on" these demands, he told CBC News.
Eklund said reducing class sizes is one proposal on the table.
Kimberly Nugent, the acting president for UOITFA, said this is the first strike by faculty in the university's history, adding that their concerns are not new.
"Our workload concerns predate the pandemic, COVID-19 only exacerbated them," Nugent told CBC News.
She said Bill 124, provincial legislation that caps wage increases for some public sector workers, prevents any talk of more money, so the faculty is targeting the "invisible work that's just started to grow and become unsustainable."
"The university refuses to address our concerns around workload … and here we are today looking at a status quo agreement and we're just asking for them to address some of our very serious concerns," Nugent said.
'We're absolutely devastated'
Nugent said the strike action has "already lasted one day too long," and she's hoping for an agreement soon.
"We did not want to be out here, we're absolutely devastated," she said.
"I was supposed to teach today, I'm missing my students, I want to be in the classroom. I hope it doesn't go on for too long but here we are."
Meanwhile, Eklund said the UOITFA hopes that the university comes back to the bargaining table quickly and that they can reach a resolution.
He said nobody wants to have a long strike but they are "well prepared to see this through so that we do get a good deal for our members and for the sake of the students."
Academic experience disrupted, student union says
The strike is affecting students like Setu Patel who had two professors on the picket line on Thursday.
"There need to be, like, a common ground between [both sides]," Patel said.
President of the Ontario Tech Student Union Joshua Sankarlal said students have had their academic experience disrupted for two years now.
He said in-person classes had resumed just as the faculty association announced they were unable to reach a deal with the university.
"Students are anxious about how long this disruption will last and the impact it will have to their future — these include factors incredibly important to their livelihoods, such as their graduation date and their ability to enter the workforce alongside graduates from other post-secondary institutions in Ontario," Sankarlal told CBC News.
Sankarlal says the student union would like the Ontario Tech and the faculty association to return to the bargaining table "to minimize further damage to their financial and mental well-being."
A difficult time for campus community
The UOITFA said they were prepared to negotiate today but the university wasn't.
However, the university registrar, Joe Stokes said "the university is ready to meet with the faculty association as soon as they're ready.
"We care about our students and our faculty and we care about the entire campus community and we want to reach an agreement," he told CBC News.
Stokes acknowledged that the negotiations have been ongoing "for several months," but said the university has been "bargaining in good faith with the faculty association."
He added the university is doing its best to communicate with the students as new information becomes available, and is "committed to helping them finish their term."