Georgian College students 'outraged' about lack of progress
Georgian College students, including Kristen Walker, bottom left, held a sit-in at the Barrie campus Monday morning to voice their frustration about the ongoing faculty strike. They spoke with college president and CEO MaryLynn West-Moynes, centre right. IAN MCINROY/BARRIE EXAMINER/POSTMEDIA
As the strike by Georgian College faculty drags on into a fifth week, a group of students voiced their concerns Monday morning.
And they did it in a way students in past decades around the world have also done.
They had a sit-in.
They wanted to express their outrage at the lack of the progress of talks between the College Employer Council and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), according to second-year nursing student Kristen Walker.
The union represents approximately 12,000 college workers across the province.
The council represents the province’s 24 colleges, including Georgian College campuses in Barrie, Orillia, Owen Sound, Midland and Collingwood.
Faculty will begin voting on the council’s most recent offer on Tuesday. Voting ends at 10 a.m., Thursday.
A local union spokeswoman stated Monday she thought the vote would be a resounding no.
But Walker and other Georgian students didn’t wait until the results of the contract offer vote to show their displeasure at how the strike has affected their studies.
She is in her second year of the four-year honours degree nursing program, which includes a third and fourth year at York University.
“If anything gets delayed and our learning curves aren’t met, what’s that going to mean for us when we get to York?,” Walker said, while holding a sign at the Barrie campus on Sunday. “Are we going to be on the same page with them? Are we going to even be able to graduate from Georgian at an appropriate time to continue at York?
“This strike is a lot bigger that a lot of us thought it was going to be.”
According to notes sent to students last week, the fall semester has already been extended into the week of Dec. 18 to 22.
Should the strike continue for a longer period of time, it is possible the semester could be extended into January.
Anita Arvast, OPSEU Local 350 chief steward in Barrie, said almost 600 Georgian College full-time and part-time faculty at all the campuses have been manning picket lines, many of whom gathered at the Barrie campus on Monday in anticipation of this week’s voting.
“We’re quite certain it will be voted down,” she said. “Their offer is not anything we’ve negotiated. Everything that was negotiated and agreed upon was taken out of the final offer.
“It’s actually a worse contract for part-time faculty than ever.”
Arvast said it denies members the right to get more full-time positions.
“Basically they are getting out of Bill 148 – equal pay for equal work legislation that is coming - in a very sneaky way,” she added. “The language in the new contract (that is being offered) basically has a way that says part-timers are not the same as full-timers.”
College president and CEO MaryLynn West-Moynes, who met with the group of sit-in students Monday morning, said she knows they are frustrated and are very concerned.
“Our focus is to give all students the opportunity to complete the semester and academic year without compromising quality or creating unreasonable workloads,” she said.
“The most I can ask of our faculty is to read the offer posted on our website and make an informed decision. A vote to accept will end the strike,” West-Moynes added. “I remain cautiously optimistic.”
Arvast said that if the contract offer is voted down, another option could be in the cards.
“We need some other mechanism (arbitration) to get us back in the classrooms. This has gone on too long and it’s not fair,” she said.
Should faculty vote in favour of the offer, students could return to class as early as Monday, Nov. 20.
If faculty vote no, plans for semester completion will be regularly revised depending on how long the strike continues.
If students are not in class by Nov. 27, the semester will need to be extended into January.