OPSEU president predicts confrontation with Liberals
BY JAMES WALLACE Osprey News Network
TORONTO - The union representing Ontario college teachers has launched a campaign to force the Liberal government to allow 16,000 teachers and employees working part time in post-secondary institutions to join a union.
Leah Casselman, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said her union will do "whatever it takes" to change the law - including making the next provincial election campaign miserable for Premier Dalton McGuinty.
"The existing law is unfair ... and we are telling Premier Dalton McGuinty it must be scrapped immediately," Casselman said.
Ontario is the only jurisdiction in the country that bars part-time college employees from joining a union.
Casselman said her union is organizing meetings with part-time college teachers, support staff and other workers right now and will step up public pressure on the government in coming months.
She also vowed McGuinty will face protests in "at least 24 communities, probably more like 60 communities" in the 2007 provincial election campaign unless the current law is scrapped.
"I'm talking about Mr. McGuinty's big issue - post-secondary education, he wants it to be one of his flagship issues," Casselman said.
"Well, this is the big, burning hole right in the middle of it, so we will be there unless they take action."
Improving post-secondary education is a major part of the McGuinty government's ajenda and the government's significant investments in this area will play a prominent role in Liberal re-elecion plans.
However, Chris Bentley, the minister responsible for training, colleges and universities said the provinceisn't currently considering changing the law to allow part-timers to unionize. I
"Our record with respect to post-secondary education to invest in colleges and universities
"Right now, we are looking at how to invest the more than $130-million extra this year we're going to have for colleges!" he said.
"That will allow colleges to improve the quality of education and it will allow colleges to make longer-term commitments to their programming and to the people who teach.
"I think that's the right direction to proceed in," Bentley said.
Casselman said while the Liberals are investing in "bricks and mortar," more money needs to be dedicated toward improving classroom conditions.
"From an economic point of view, we want to keep jobs in those communities, good jobs," Casselman said, noting 24 Ontario communities have colleges and many more are home to satellite campuses.
Casselman said part-time teachers don't have the same job protection as full-time employees and are often forced to teach bigger classes.
The province has allowed colleges to expand the use of part-time teachers. Casselman predicts over time, classroom standards will erode, despite record new investment.
Unless the government changes its mind about unionization and part-timers, Casselman predicted increasing confrontation.
"There will be an election in about a year and a half," she said. "This will certainly be one of those front burners for this government coming up to that next election."
James Wallace is the Queen's Park bureau chief for the Osprey News Network. Reach him at email@example.com or at www.ospreyblogs.com.