Thursday, November 30, 2017

Stand together

An odd feeling was brewing across campus at the beginning of October. It was almost like there was a giant pink elephant wandering around campus that no one wanted to address. I heard a few professors mention the strike, encouraging us to continue our school work if a strike were to happen, but it seemed that no one wanted to directly address the strike. The elephant in the room did not get addressed until the middle of October. On October 15th, George Brown sent out an email informing students and staff that the strike was about to begin.

At first I was not too concerned - a week off, I thought, it gives me some time to catch up on school work. Maybe this strike wouldn’t be such a bad thing. By the third week, however, I felt differently about the situation. I began to worry, knowing that my graduation would not be in June if the semester did not resume soon. I worried about my financial situation, whether or not it was safe to pick up shifts or if school would resume. As I read each news article that popped up online my worries grew, the union and the college council had not yet sat down together.

According to Global News, international students were told by immigration officials that they would not be penalized, assuring them that it would be possible to extend their visas. But for international students who only are able to work 20 hours a week on a student visa or students who moved to Toronto for school, or any other students paying rent while the strike continued, reassurance that the college had a contingency plan was not very reassuring. Throughout the strike I was told by students that some were hesitant on returning home for a visit knowing they would only receive two business days notice if college were to resume, others saying that if they did not return back to school this semester that they would not continue with their education. While students were being disproportionately impacted by the strike, there were obvious reasons motivating the strikes insurgence - faculty members were clearly dissatisfied.

What was that odd feeling that had been brewing, that pink elephant in the room that no one wanted to address across George Brown campus? As I looked for answers to this I started to uncover a sense of frustration and dissatisfaction amongst faculty members. As Simona Chiose explained in a piece published by the Globe and Mail, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), the union that represents colleges across Ontario, wanted to see the number of part time teachers reduced and the allocation of job security more fairly distributed.

OPSEU raised their concerns to the College Employer Council and an unfortunate decision was made. The College Employer Council was not willing to negotiate. Greatly dissatisfied by this decision, the faculty took a stand. As Resh Budhu, a college faculty member, explained, her participation in the strike was motivated by a staggering increase in precarious employment and what it does for the job security of her faculty. Similar concerns have been expressed across Ontario campuses.

The concerns raised by faculty members across Ontario college campuses are valid. Unfair and unsustainable employment policies are widespread in most post-secondary institutions across Canada. But the strike did not only impact college faculty members, the students were also greatly affected by the strike. Added stress permeates the student body, as students and faculty members have to make up for lost time by trying to fit an already tight curriculum into an even tighter time frame. This impossible task forces students to learn from a compressed curriculum that they did not sign up for and thus did not pay for. The length of time that has elapsed exacerbates this already stressful time. As students scramble to try to get back into the swing of things after being away from school for over thirty days. Not only has our learning momentum been disrupted, it has also become increasingly hard to get motivated and continue working. Additionally, the stress of the strike becomes especially pertinent to those who only have accommodations booked until the end of the year. Further, students who have already made plans over the holidays and winter break, or booked trips at the end of the April, are now faced with new time constraints that limit the time they have to visit their families and friends. As a result, resentment among the student body is growing.

Now imagine being treated so unfairly that you decide not to return to school. You voice your opinion on what is bothering you and you get an offer that does not address anything that you initially voiced. The College Employer Council made OPSEU an offer but as explained by Andrea Janus for CBC news, the union countered the offer as the concessions undermined any possibility of improving conditions for workers. A vote was held and 86 percent voted in favor of rejecting the offer. Following the vote, the provincial government passed a back-to-work legislation ending the five week strike. Although the legislation was passed, forcing teachers back to work and salvaging students semesters, for the faculty there problem was not resolved. NDP leader Andrea Horwath explained that they still have a broken college system to deal with where seventy percent of the faculty do not earn decent wages, seventy percent are working part-time and contract work, which is not the best for us, the students, in terms of our quality of education.

If you are still feeling personally victimized by the strike, I urge you to consider that not only did the faculty strike for themselves and their jobs but they also went on strike for us, the students. OPSEU put out a statement on their website explaining that the faculty stands with the students. They took a stand not only for their job security but also so that we, the students, do not feel like all that awaits us, following the completion of our post secondary education, is an uncertain life in a “part-time gig” economy.

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