More than 9,000 part-time and sessional faculty at 24 community colleges in Ontario may have to wait a while before learning the outcome of the largest certification vote in the province’s labour history.
The province-wide vote on whether to join the Ontario Public Service Employees Union ended Feb. 5, but delays are expected in tabulating the results.
Paddy Musson, chair of OPSEU’s college academic section, said the implications of unionization are enormous so there’s a strong likelihood college employers will challenge as many of the ballots as possible. Issues over who is eligible to vote could delay an announcement of the results for weeks, or even months.
Musson, who has worked to organize part-time and sessional faculty at Ontario’s colleges for more than 25 years, says challenges are expected because colleges believe they have a lot to lose.
She says that across the country colleges and universities have been making up for the underfunding of education “on the backs of part-timers.”
Part-time teachers have no benefits or vacation pay, no job security, no grievance process and aren’t paid for statutory holidays.
It’s also about what the employer calls “flexibility,” says Musson.
“What they mean by that is the ability to hire teachers and only pay them for their classroom time and not any prep work. Full-time college teachers fought this fight and won recognition for preparatory and evaluation work, which of course takes a lot of time, so ‘flexibility’ for the employer has been about not paying the part-timers for all the work it takes to offer a quality course.”
She says the vote is about “justice and saying ‘no’ to the idea that you have two people hat sit side by side, and one (a full-time faculty member) has the legal right to belong to a union and the other, who does the exact same work, has no right to belong to a union.”
She adds that unionization will also force a change in priorities for the employer.
“If we are able to negotiate fair work for part-timers, the employer will create part-time positions when it makes pedagogical sense, not just when it makes sense from a business perspective,” she said.
Part-time and sessional faculty have had to wait for years for the right to unionize, which was only recognized in legislation passed in August last year.
The Labour Relations Board ordered the vote after OPSEU handed in thousands of membership cards in December.
“The employer says these employees should not join a union because it will fundamentally change their relationship with the employer,” Musson said. “And we say, ‘Yes, and it’s about time!’”
Musson says organizing Ontario’s part-time college teachers was long overdue and hopes the labour group won’t have long to wait for the results.
“We hope we will be starting the summer session with part-time employees in negotiations for their first collective agreement,” she said.
OPSEU’s membership includes 16,000 full-time support and academic staff in Ontario colleges.