Organizing Outside the Legal Framework

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) has taken a giant step forward in its fight to win the right to collective bargaining for part-time faculty and support staff in Ontario’s 24 community colleges. There are over 12,500 part-timers and an additional 5,000 students in government-subsidized programs working in colleges across the province, now more than the number of full-time workers 

Barred from unionization by the 1975 Colleges Collective Bargaining Act, college part-timers formed an association (OPSECAAT) as a first step in a fight for full union status. As crown employees, part-time college workers are also denied most of the provisions of the Employment Standards Act, including the right to statutory holiday pay and vacation pay. For these excluded workers, the issue is fairness. The part-time teachers and support staff of 24 Ontario colleges work side by side their full-time counterparts but are paid far less for doing the exact same work. 

OPSEU has devoted significant resources to both organize the workers and pressure the government to allow a bargaining unit to be formed. The Ontario government did set up a Review of the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act in the fall of 2007 and we are anticipating a government response to this report by Kevin Whitaker. OPSEU is not just waiting for legislation to change, however. The union has launched the largest single card-signing campaign in the history of the labour movement in Ontario. It is right now in the process of one final request to the College Compensation and Appointments Council to voluntarily recognize OPSEU as the bargaining agent for part-timers and sessionals. The Council handles collective bargaining for the colleges.

If the Council refuses to recognize OPSEU as the part-timers’ bargaining agent, the union will make a formal application for certification to the Education Relations Commission on Monday, April 14. The union will present thousands of signed union cards to the Commission and ask it to order a certification vote. 

While there is no guarantee of the outcome, one thing is certain. Providing the commitment to fund, resource and staff a multi-year campaign shows that a union like OPSEU is serious about organizing thousands of workers in its jurisdiction. It is particularly heartening that the campaign is on behalf of part-time workers, who are an increasingly important part of the economy but an exploited group in Ontario. OPSEU’s efforts on behalf of these particularly vulnerable workers in itself is a victory.

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