Fanshawe College faculty prepare for looming Friday strike deadline

The Oxford Street entrance to Fanshawe College's T Building. Matthew Trevithick/980 CFPL

Students at London’s Fanshawe College, like students at public colleges across the province, are bracing for a halt to classes later this week should a strike involving college faculty members go forward.

Roughly 16,000 staff at colleges across Ontario will go on strike at 12:01 a.m. Friday if no deal is reached between the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and the College Employer Council (CEC), the government-mandated bargaining unit representing colleges in the talks.

Fanshawe College faculty have been without a collective agreement since Sept. 30 when their last contract expired, said Darryl Bedford, president of OPSEU Local 110, which represents roughly 1,000 Fanshawe staff members, including professors, librarians, and counsellors.

OPSEU members sought and received a strike mandate on Dec. 11, 2021, with 59 per cent voting in favour, according to the union. Members have been on a work-to-rule campaign since Dec. 18, and last month rejected, with 62 per cent, a final offer from the CEC in a forced offer vote.

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This week, OPSEU asked CEC to agree to voluntary binding interest arbitration, where both sides would ask an impartial party to resolve the dispute, building a compromise from two contrasting proposals. Doing so, it said, would “save the school year,” and avoid a strike.

Bedford said the CEC has not returned to the bargaining table, and described the colleges as being “unwilling to agree” when it comes to binding interest arbitration, resulting in the Friday strike deadline.

“The College Employer Council seems to be still fixated on final offer selection instead of binding arbitration. They want an arbitrator to choose all of one offer or all of the other offer,” he said.

“We want an arbitrator to go through each of (the) issues and decide them on their merits, as opposed to having a system where one side wins everything and the other side loses everything. It’s not how labour disputes are typically settled.”

In a statement, the CEO of CEC, Graham Lloyd, said management had made “numerous attempts” since last March to come to an agreement with OPSEU.

“The union is claiming it had no choice but to strike because the colleges have refused to bargain and have refused arbitration. This is simply untrue. CEC has repeatedly offered final offer selection arbitration,” he said.

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“If the union is satisfied that its offer is reasonable, then it should allow an arbitrator to choose between it and the CEC offer. The union has refused to do so which we believe is because it knows that their offer is unrealistic and unacceptable, despite all claims to the contrary.”

Should a strike go forward, all classes at Fanshawe would be cancelled, including part-time, apprenticeship, and continuing education classes, the college says.

Fanshawe’s campus and student services will remain open, and students will still have access to online course material through the college’s FanshaweOnline portal.

Bedford says members would rather not strike, noting the impact it would have on students, and are willing to go to binding arbitration “at any time.” For their part, he says students have shown support for the talks being resolved, and for binding arbitration.

Click to play video: 'Fleming College faculty among others to potentially walk out on Friday'
Fleming College faculty among others to potentially walk out on Friday

Among the issues at play, Bedford says, are concerns over precarious employment, workload amounts amid the shift to online learning, and contracting out and privatization within Ontario’s public college system.

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“These issues are particularly important at Fanshawe, because Fanshawe has signed a deal with a private college in Toronto to offer our programs,” he said.

First announced in November, the deal with ILAC International College, a private career college, will mean Fanshawe programs being offered to international students in downtown Toronto starting this September. It follows a policy move by the province in 2019 to support such partnerships.

The partnership will see five Fanshawe programs offered at first, including addictions and mental health, and hospitality and tourism operations management. At least 385 students will be enrolled this fall, with the aim of admitting 2,484 students each year, the college says.

“That’s about 10 per cent of Fanshawe’s student population (who) will be studying at a private college in Toronto, and those will not be Fanshawe College employees,” he said.

“There are concerns about the loss of any positions here in London and southwestern Ontario, but also the use of our materials and our curriculum by that private college to make a profit, and that those materials would be used without our permission.”

Fanshawe says the college will provide general course outlines and “provincially approved learning outcomes” as part of the deal, adding that each Fanshawe program team can decide whether to share additional materials. ILAC professors will deliver the programs, and are responsible for developing their own lesson plans and course content.

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Read more: Staff at Ontario public colleges could strike by Friday

It’s not clear how much money exchanged hands as a result of the partnership, but Bedford imagines the deal is “worth a lot of money to Fanshawe.” College brass, he charges, haven’t been eager to address questions raised by the deal during meetings with local members.

“They’ve promised that the money will be reinvested, but we want to see that in a contract, in writing,” he said.

“If the jobs here were secured, then Fanshawe College would have no choice but to take that money and invest it here in London. We want to make sure that happens and the best way to do that is to have it in a contract.”

Fanshawe and other Ontario colleges last saw a faculty strike in the fall of 2017. The strike lasted five weeks and resulted in the extension of the semester.

— with files from Isaac Callan

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