BY TAYLOR PACE
With students back in class, Ontario colleges are working to accommodate them after the longest teacher strike the province has ever seen. At Conestoga College, the fall semester has been extended to Jan. 8. Christmas break will be Dec. 23 to Jan. 1, with the winter semester starting on Jan. 15.
Although the five-week strike is over, no agreement was reached, so a mediator-arbitrator was appointed and will decide on the new collective agreement within the next few weeks.
Conestoga President John Tibbits said despite the ongoing arbitration, the primary focus is on the students.
“I know that some of the faculty aren’t happy about the way that it was done, but to me, the most important thing was getting the students back,” he said. “So let’s make sure we do everything we can to help them be successful.”
Tibbits believes students should take advantage of being back in class. “I would hope that the overwhelming majority of students would put their heads down and get at it and try to get the work done and complete the semester, albeit a little bit longer than they planned originally.”
With negotiations during the strike being unsuccessful, OPSEU Local 237 President Lana Hardacre is optimistic about the results arbitration could bring.
“In the past when we’ve been in the arbitration process we have made significant gains. For example, the workload formula (for faculty) has come out of binding arbitration,” she said, adding, “Anything is better than the forced offer they had put before our membership.”
In regard to the repairing of the relationship between the union and management, Tibbits compared it to Pearl Harbor. “In 1941 Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, and they hated one another and they dropped the bomb on them, and today they’re best friends.
“I’m saying that in the short term, there is going to be tension on both sides. There has to be, a lot of things were said … but at some point, this will diminish,” he said.
There are several changes being made to accommodate students for a successful semester.
At the Doon campus, the Learning Commons has extended its hours from Monday to Wednesday until 7 p.m., and a student success adviser is available to help guide students to any support services they may need.
The school has also been working closely with Conestoga Students Inc. (CSI) to come up with a plan to make students’ return easier. However, management and CSI are trying to have continuity with the province’s other 23 colleges, “in a fashion where all the students will be treated the same way,” said Tibbits.
Shortly after the strike ended, the Ontario government ordered the colleges to set up a relief fund for students who suffered financial problems over the course of the strike. The fund is made up of the money colleges saved during the five weeks, with full-time and international students eligible to receive up to $500 for incremental unexpected costs such as extra child care or transportation fees. In addition, students wishing to drop out of their program will receive a full refund, and students with children 4-12 years of age are being offered free daycare at the Doon campus child care centre the week of Jan. 2-5.
CSI President Aimee Calma said the student association is here to help students “in whatever their success looks like in the new semester as its been reformatted.”
“At the end of the day, we are the voice of the students, and we know students have been put through a hell of a lot in the last five weeks.”
Calma encourages students to contact CSI if they have any questions or concerns, “whether or not it’s accessing the support fund or they need help with accommodations for their classes, or they’re looking at withdrawing and they want more answers.”
Updated information about the changes this semester can be found at CSI’s website, http://conestogastudents.com.