Students carry placards with the slogan "Students & workers united" during a solidarity rally at York University in support of striking Ontario college faculty.
On November 16, 2017, the Ontario government announced it would table back-to-work legislation to force an end to the ongoing OPSEU college faculty strike, an undemocratic move that will block progress on working conditions for college faculty and for all workers in Ontario. This announcement came only hours after a vote by the OPSEU college faculty, overwhelmingly rejecting the concessionary offer by the College Employer Council (CEC) and calling on the CEC to get back to the table and bargain a fair contract.
OPSEU college faculty went on strike on October 16, 2017 because the College Employer Council (CEC) refused the Union’s fair and reasonable proposals for equal pay for precariously-employed faculty, improved job security for all, and academic freedom. If accepted, these proposals would have resulted in fairer working conditions, higher quality education, and a more democratic public college system where faculty and students have a say in key decisions.
Striking college faculty have not been fighting for high quality jobs and public services in isolation. Their fight is part and parcel of the broader province-wide fight for decent work for all Ontarians. The Fight for $15 and Fairness – a coalition of community, labour, and student groups across the province – has, after more than two years of campaigning, successfully pushed the provincial government to move forward with legislation raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2019, and promising equal pay for part-time, temporary, contract, and temporary help agency workers relative to full-time permanent workers, among other reforms.
It is the height of irony for a government that claims to be committed to positive reforms for workers to be abusing its legislative power to deny a group of workers such important rights as equal pay and job security – the very issues on which it claims to be taking positive action. Rather than standing with OPSEU against the CEC’s opposition to basic employment rights, the government’s move to prohibit further strike action by OPSEU hands all the cards to the Employer and means the unacceptable status quo in the college system is likely to continue.
Moreover, the right to strike is an essential part of all Canadians’ constitutionally-recognized freedom of association, and, in denying it to OPSEU members, the government is undermining the rights of workers in all sectors.
The government is claiming to act in the best interest of students. But students have said loudly and clearly through this strike that, not only do they want a better quality college system, they also want to see improvements to working conditions in colleges and in the labour market more broadly. Students know the challenge of precarious work, as most work low-paid part-time jobs while in school and nearly all will enter an increasingly difficult job market upon graduation.
Members of the York Cross-Campus Alliance have supported OPSEU through their strike because we recognize that their fight is our fight. We too are seeking to fight precarious work within and outside the academic sector. We too believe that all workers should have stable, secure jobs that pay wages that put them above the poverty line. We too fight for democracy on campus, and in all workplaces.
We fully back OPSEU in their struggle against the contemptible back-to-work legislation the government is trying to impose on them, and we pledge to continue the fight for decent work for all over the coming months and years.
The York Cross-Campus Alliance represents tens of thousands of students, staff, and faculty at York University. The Cross-Campus Alliance includes: