Public Values

Part-time college workers struggle to organize in Ontario

Refusing to count ballots in part-time faculty vote is one of many stalling tactics - OPSEU.

Caron Fitpatrick and Roger Couvrette voted on joining OPSEU last January. by Ish Theilheimer

TORONTO, June 8, 2009, PublicValues.ca – The Ontario Labour Relations Board meets this week to begin determining whether part-time faculty in Ontario's colleges will get the union representation and workplace protections they need.

Colleges and universities in Ontario have moved dramatically away from hiring full-time employees with unions, contracts and labour rights in favour of part-timers with none of these protections.

Though hard to reach and organize precisely because of the irregular hours they keep, as well as due to obstruction from employers, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is working to recruit this growing segment of the work force as members. The union has parallel organizing drives going on among part-time and sessional workers, and with support staff, but it has met with resistance from the colleges, which continue to challenge the validity of the signatures the union has collected.

"With a transient work force, you get into a transient situation," says Randy Robinson of OPSEU. "The labour law we have is designed for a stable workforce. Some of the people who signed union cards signed and moved on, some signed and are still hanging in, and some part-time faculty who are working now were not working during the organizing drive. When we put in our application, the employer flooded the lists with hundreds of people out of the woodwork," in order to claim that OPSEU had not signed a high enough proportion of employees to force a certification vote.

The next step will be hearings before Ontario's labour board, where individual workers may have to be called out, one by one, said Robinson. "It will be protracted."

In February, despite a supervised vote by the Ontario Labour Relations Board, Ontario's colleges refused to have ballot boxes opened and votes counted following a vote by part-time and sessional faculty members on whether to join OPSEU.

Resolution could be a long time coming. "The approach of the colleges has been 'delay is the same as victory'," says Robinson. Meanwhile, at least 9,000 part-time and sessional workers are "sitting there waiting for justice. They played by the rules."

The union is continuing to sign cards among college support staff.

Ish Theilheimer has been Publisher of the leading, and oldest, independent Canadian online newsmagazine, StraightGoods.ca, since founding it in September 1999. He is also Managing Editor of PublicValues.ca.

Links and sources
  Colleges continue to block vote count at Labour Board, OPSEU, April 3 2009
  Ontario colleges refuse to count ballots in historic vote by part-time faculty, OPSEU, February 19 2009

Posted: June 08, 2009

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