From a very young age, students are taught that there will be consequences to not meeting deadlines for their work. They might get a stern talking to, lose marks, receive a zero, or ultimately a fail if they don’t make arrangements to submit an assignment on time as specified. While teachers and parents may provide extra time or support, their reinforcement of that expectation provides a lesson that lasts for life.
Unfortunately, some 500,000 Ontario students have been left wondering why that standard isn’t applying to the people who run the province’s public colleges and who represent the faculty who teach courses at those facilities. After four weeks of strike action, faculty remain on the picket line and students remain stressed. They don’t know if they will get their year of learning in, they’re not sure if placements and employment will be waiting in an adjusted schedule, and their lives are essentially placed on hold while the sides negotiate.
No one can blame the faculty represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union for exercising their right to labour action, given their contract has expired. By the same token, it is reasonable to expect college administrators have to stick to the budgets they’re given by their boards — and ultimately, by the provincial government itself.
The problem lies in the fact those bodies have been allowed to negotiate throughout the summer and now into the school year unsuccessfully with little regard for the paying students who make their jobs possible. When both sides were trading public warnings in the media in July and August that they were far apart on a deal, perhaps at that point the government should have been stepping in and providing some assistance or pressure to get a deal done. Maybe it also should have done the responsible thing and said schools wouldn’t open and students wouldn’t pay until a deal was at hand.
Both sides at the table also should have been able to take a cue at that time and decided that they should either sit at the table until their task was complete or allow mediation or arbitration to be started earlier to avoid labour stoppages.
The strike has now gone on for four weeks and the sides continue to head down a rocky road of provocation, rather than conciliation. With both clearly sharing their talking points for weeks, there’s a good bet the public has already made up its mind and isn’t going to be the lever that pushes one side or the other to cave just to return to the classroom.
It’s high time the province steps in to force a path to resolution that gets its students back in the classroom so they don’t lose their education or fall behind peers in other areas who will be entering a shared jobs market. While neither back-to-work legislation, nor an arbitrated settlement is bound to make both sides happy, that’s the risk they take for not bridging the gap on some of the issues earlier on. A prolonged strike serves no one’s interests. It’s time both sides be made to face the consequences and open the classrooms — whether it’s on their terms or someone else’s.