Hundreds of Seneca College teachers may lose their jobs or have them downgraded to non-union positions this January.
As the college proceeds with cuts, hundreds of "partial load" unionized jobs will be replaced with non-unionized part-time positions. Part-time faculty do not have office hours, are not paid for student contact time, and often work two or three jobs to make ends meet.
"English and liberal studies have been especially hard hit," said OPSEU Local 560 President Jonathan Singer, "but there are drastic cuts across the board."
Many faculty have reported to the union that they have already been put on notice. The administration has told them that they will not be hired to teach for the January term unless they come back as non-union part-time faculty at a lower pay rate and without benefits.
In the past week, management has also announced its intention to deny downgraded faculty the sick days that they have accumulated while they were still unionized as partial-load faculty.
According to a Toronto Star investigation, Seneca's administration claims that cutting staff hours is not primarily a cost-saving method but rather a means of responding to the college's "troubling first-year dropout rate." The university blames extra class hours in some courses for overburdening students and says that cutting course hours will result in the loss of some partial-load jobs.
In an open letter responding to the Star article, Singer calls the argument made by vice-president academic Joy McKinnon a "smokescreen" to distract from the "real issue," which is that unionized jobs are being downgraded into more precarious positions.
"We believe that this large-scale conversion of unionized positions to non-unionized positions is not responding to any necessary need and is rather an effort to potentially weaken the union and, no less probably, save money on the backs of Seneca college's most valuable members, their contract faculty," said Singer.
The administration claims that reducing class hours will bring Seneca on par with other colleges. However, Singer argues, those other colleges continue to hire partial-load faculty as their normal practice.
The administration claims that a strain on resources is another reason they are cutting partial-load jobs. The college has not publicly released a detailed budget but the 2014 fiscal reviews shows a modest operating surplus.
The union has been denied the right to inform students of these staffing changes through informational pickets on campus.
However, hundreds of students have already registered their dissatisfaction by signing a petition circulated on campus asking the administration to stop the elimination of partial load faculty positions. Another petition hosted online received over 500 signatures.
"We are deeply dismayed that President Agnew has not chosen to respond to these petitions," said Singer, "especially to the students, who really deserve to know because their faculty availability may be potentially reduced next semester."
Ella Bedard is rabble.ca's labour intern. She has written about labour issues for Dominion.ca and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People. She now lives in Toronto where she enjoys chasing the labour beat, biking and birding.
Photo: flickr/Yanic Gendron