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Spring break travel plans in jeopardy

Stephanie Taylor | Interrobang | News | January 9th, 2006

Instead of walking on sandy beaches this March during what was scheduled to be spring break, Fanshawe students will be trudging through the snow on their way to class, banking hours spent with their teachers.

The College of Applied Arts and Technology Academic (CAAT-A) branch of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents Ontario's 9000 college teachers, councelors and librarians in 24 colleges, rejected the latest contract offer from the Management Council, putting them in a position to strike on March 7, 2006 — just four days after students were scheduled to return to classes following the mid-semester slack week.

If the CAAT-A does vote in February to strike, students would lose valuable time spent in the classroom. The loss of contact hours could put the semester in jeopardy, and many students could face problems with successful completion of their year. In order to save the semester, students would have to make up a significant portion of the time lost.

The recommendation to cancel spring break was made by the FSU in an effort to ensure students spend as many contact hours as possible in the classroom, but the final decision was made by the college. With the possibility of a faculty strike in March, these hours are priceless.

“…in the event of a strike, all of the opportunities available to make up lost days have been taken, ”FSU President Melissa Smart noted in a press release sent to students before the winter break.

Had Fanshawe decided to go ahead with spring break as planned, students may have had to attend classes later than scheduled possibly running into May 2006. This would mean many students would have to extend their leases, and could have a negative impact on summer classes.

“My best position is to not take sides, but to stay neutral and to take care of students,” said Smart, “so if this is what's best [for students] that's what I'm going to do.”

Over 400 students have contacted Smart with concerns about canceling slack week. Traditionally, it is a time where students travel, and many have already pre-booked trips. But, Smart added, there are also many who agree with the FSU's recommendation.

Some students may still think the situation is dire; however, even this cloud has a silver lining.

If the CAAT-A and the Management Council can avoid a strike, students will finish the semester one week early in lieu of the time spent in class in February. The decision to forgo slack week is on a college-by-college basis, so not all Ontario colleges may opt to skip the break. This means that Fanshawe grads will have a head start on job hunting and housing searches.

The top four bargaining priorities according to the OPSEU website are workload, salary, benefits and security. Many of the demands made by the union have a heavy foundation in the Review of Post Secondary Education, Higher Expectations for Higher Education, released by former Ontario premier Bob Rae last winter. In the review, Rae suggests that Ontario students are not content with the quality and quantity of time spent with their teachers.

“The problems of quality in the colleges as identified by Bob Rae will not be resolved unless management gets serious about addressing real workload concerns,” said the OPSEU Bargaining Team Chair Ted Montgomery in a statement posted on the OPSEU website.

In an effort to ratify the problem, the union is seeking more full-time teachers, smaller classroom sizes, and the continued ability to determine what work is completed during non-teaching hours.

The union is also seeking salary increases to put them on par with their university and secondary counterparts, as well as a more comprehensive benefits package for retirees.

The union voted on November 29, 2005 on the contract offer, and it was rejected province-wide by 95.7 per cent, and the Local 110 at Fanshawe voted to strike 96.76 per cent. The previous agreement expired August 31, 2005.

According to a document released in July 2005 by the Management Council there have only been two academic strikes. The first, in 1987, lasted 23 days before the faculty was legislated back to work by the provincial government. The second was in 1989, and an agreement was reached after 20 days.
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