St. Lawrence College grapples with Ontario colleges’ strike

Students out of class, missing work placement experiences

St. Lawrence College campus.
Photo supplied via St. Lawrence College

After failing to reach an agreement between faculty and the Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU), Ontario colleges have gone on strike. As a result, more than 300,000 students across the province are wondering how their academic years will progress. 

Just over two kilometers from the JDUC, Kingston’s St. Lawrence College (SLC) is one of 24 public Ontario colleges involved in the strike. According to The Globe and Mail, no talks between the College Employer Council — the body that represents the striking faculty — and the Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU) have been scheduled.

The negotiation deals concern “wage increases, job security, part-time and full-time employee ratios and academic decision making processes,” according to Beth Insley, President and Executive Director of the St. Lawrence College student association. 

With part-time college instructors currently making up over 70 per cent of all college faculty, The Globe and Mail reported OPSEU is asking for a reduction in the amount of these workers.

At this time, OPSEU is also demanding better job security by basing hiring on seniority and experience. However, the Employer Council is arguing these demands are too expensive, estimating the costs at about $250 million.

At SLC, classes aren’t the only thing affected by the strike, with placements and filed courses also on hold at this time. According to Insley, SLC is concerned about the length of the strike and what will happen for students when classes reconvene. 

“It will require large-scale organizing and planning from the College to ensure students are supported during the transition back to classes,” he said.

Administration at SLC is well aware of student unease. Glenn Vollebregt, the President and CEO of SLC, told The Journal this strike is “heartbreaking for students,” and he was “incredibly disappointed” over the failed negotiations.

Vollebregt noted that 12 strike votes and three official strikes have occurred in SLC’s 50-year history, but “no student ever has lost a semester or a year.” He stated they were going “to do their best” to ensure this case would be the same. 

Insley hopes the strike won’t overly disrupt students’ studies. “A quick settlement will make it easier for students to be successful and finish their programs within the allotted time,” she said.

Unfortunately, he knows there’s no guarantee. “We can’t know the length of the strike, the longer it goes, the longer students are waiting for classes to return.” 

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