At midnight on October 15, the Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU) went on strike after failing to reach an agreement with the College Employer Council in their collective bargaining process. OPSEU represents professors, counselors, instructors, and librarians across Ontario colleges. These 12,000 staff members from 24 colleges across the province are striking in opposition to job precarity and in support of academic freedom. Job precarity refers to the vulnerability or instability of part-time, contract, and seasonal jobs. Precarious workers are not offered secure, long-term contracts, are paid less for doing the same work as full-time or tenured employees, and are not protected from sudden termination of employment. OPSEU’s main demands include a 50:50 ratio of partial-load faculty to full-time faculty—currently, part-time contract instructors make up 70 per cent of the Ontario college professor workforce, meaning that colleges are paying more instructors less for the same amount of work. OPSEU has also demanded more academic freedom and decision-making power for faculty members in colleges. The Union argues that more secure and autonomous roles for professors, staff, and librarians will ensure a better education for their students.
At this time, 12,000 employees lack assurance of when their employment will be secured, and 300,000 students have had their classes cancelled without administrative compensation. The Union has been criticized for taking away student opportunities due to cancelled classes. However, we must realize that the root cause of the strike is college administrators’ exploitative labour practices and lack of consideration for staff and students. Thus, blame should not be directed at picketers. Understanding that precarious work harms people in various sectors of labour across the country, employees and students at educational institutions across the country must stand in solidarity with OPSEU in their fight to ensure that workers’ rights are respected.
The movement against job precarity also impacts the McGill community. Just last year, the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE), a union representing student and non-student casual employees on campus, went on strike after failing to reach an agreement with McGill. Their demands included a living wage, improved transparency and efficiency in hiring, and access to resources such as health benefits and ID cards. AMUSE also decried job casualisation on campus, the process through which more jobs are designated to “casual” employees, thus forcing employees to take on more responsibility without increasing job security or pay. AMUSE’s strike resulted in an increase in wages. In the time since the strike, Floor Fellows have also been unionized and are now paid for their roles in McGill residences.
There was, however, a notable lack of support for AMUSE during its strike last year, and the same hostility now colours conversations around the OPSEU strike. During the AMUSE strike, particularly during their soft picket of the Edward Snowden lecture, union members faced criticism and harassment from students claiming that the strike was an inconvenience for the McGill community. Similarly, the current OPSEU strike has elicited frustrated responses from students who are concerned about the ways in which their own lives have been put on hold. While this is understandable, those on the front lines of the picket are working towards a more equitable labour standard for themselves, students, and all future workers. The fight against job precarity and casualisation hopes to improve both today’s labour market and worker’s rights for future generations. Students and allies must recognise the sacrifices being made by picketers in order to ensure that OPSEU’s requests are met. Students should also make their allyship apparent through physical presence, statements of solidarity, and by raising awareness about job precarity and its impact on all of us.
The McGill Daily editorial board would like to acknowledge that Inori Roy, Coordinating editor, is also the President of AMUSE. However, the opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the entire editorial board.