With the new deal being ratified for part-time college support staff, the time has come for student workers to support their union.
The government’s changes have placed students in a precarious position, as a 10 per cent reduction in tuition fees and possible cuts to student fees is going to hurt campus life.
Faculty and support staff are already overworked. There are part-time employees who put in unpaid hours because they understand the responsibilities they have to students.
“You do it because your students need help or that assignment needs marking,” said part-time Humber support staffer Marlee Greig. “You can’t tell your students. ‘oh, I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t do that thing I was going to do for you because I’m not getting paid to do it.’”
Part-time support staff are now represented by the Ontario Public Employees Service Union. It took a long time, fourteen years of legal wrangling between the colleges and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.
Now, part-time support staff represent more than half the union members, according to Don Sinclair of the College Employers Council, the bargaining agent for the 24 Ontario colleges.
Members of the bargaining team, who helped fight for the first ever part-time support staff, know that the fight is just beginning.
Duncan McFarlane, vice-chair of the union bargaining team, knows that deal is a first step to better workplace rights for student workers.
“Part of our problem with the first contract is that we had trouble even knowing who our members were,” McFarlane said. “The schools don’t know and the schools don’t track it.”
“So, moving forward, the students are going to have dues taken off their paycheque and we’re going to know,” he said. “We get a list of everybody that pays dues, so we’ll be able to better able to communicate.
Christopher Millado, a member of the bargaining team, knows that student support is important.
He argues representation from students working part-time is crucial, both in ensuring workplace rights are upheld and as a source of strength for the union.
“And once we have student members, student workers representing I think we can make a really big impact,” Millado said.
Rena Borovilos, Chief Steward for the Humber Faculty Union, stresses that solidarity is important.
She said the union is looking at ways to speak up for its members, to speak up for students and to connect with one another and form alliances to better deal with the employer.
The provincial government is moving to cut OSAP, eliminate the six-month grace period to begin repaying student loans, cutting student union fees that support programs for students, and other initiatives that ultimately tighten belts unnecessarily.
“All governments are susceptible when it comes to people showing that some of their initiatives maybe are not acceptable to the wider population,” Borovilos said.
Part-time student workers, through participation in their union, can add a voice to the response to the austerity promised by the provincial government.