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Part-time faculty crisis at Seneca College

By: 
G. Graham

November 10, 2014

A section of unionized faculty (members of OPSEU) at Seneca College in Toronto, who are designated as “Partial Load,” have been informed by college administration that their jobs will be downgraded to part-time (6 teaching hours or less) in January 2015.
 
The downgrading of their jobs strips them of unionized status, which means they will no longer receive health benefits, they will be stripped of accumulated sick days, their pay rate will be cut in half, and they will not be paid for time to evaluate or meet with students.
 
In an OPSEU press release, Seneca local union president Jonathon Singer said, “Many of these faculty have been teaching at the college for years, and they are all experts in their field. If their jobs are downgraded they may be forced to leave and look for work elsewhere. That will be a tremendous loss for the college and for our students.”
 
Union-busting
The attempts by Seneca to claim that the change is necessary to fulfill “curricular” and cost cutting needs is disingenuous given the fact that full-time hiring is already lagging behind increased student enrollment. Reducing teachers’ hours to move them out of the partial load category means more teachers will be needed.
 
However, the move will significantly reduce the percentage of faculty included in the union and further exacerbate the divide between non-unionized and unionized faculty. The historical exclusion of a section of college faculty from union protection was the reason for a campaign a few years ago to bring all faculty into the union.
 
Unfortunately, a vote on unionizing by part-time college faculty was never counted due to vigorous legal obstruction by the colleges. The question of a new organizing campaign for part-time faculty is being raised again.
 
Weak ratification vote
A major demand in the recent round of bargaining was job protection and the creation of full-time jobs instead of precarious contract positions. Currently, a whopping 75 percent of college faculty are non-full-time, contract workers. Following a “no” vote campaign that saw 11 out 24 college locals recommend turning down the contract put forward by the bargaining team and the employer, the final vote was a very low 61 per cent.
 
The unprecedented low ratification rate followed a year long pre-bargaining campaign to raise the issues of increasing precarious contract work instead of full-time jobs, the proliferation of privatization schemes and the erosion of academic freedom, all occurring as student enrolment increases. The vote shows the dissatisfaction among many faculty with the status quo.
 
Action
The October divisional meeting of college locals voted to raise a campaign to support Seneca faculty. Seneca faculty local, OPSEU 560, has created a website www.partialload.org with a petition and information on the situation. Information pickets will be held at the four Seneca campuses starting Monday November 10. For more information got to: www.OPSEU560.org or Ontario College Faculty on facebook.

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