Tanya d’Anger has been teaching at Ontario’s colleges since 2000. Her CV lists some of the most renowned institutions in the province as her employers. And yet, the 59-year old reapplies for work at the end of every semester. For 18 years, she has remained a contract faculty member who earns lower rates than permanent staff.
This semester, d’Anger is working 60 to 70 hours a week at two colleges.
“I used to only work at one institution…and they wouldn’t always give me four courses. Sometimes I’d only get three. And I just got further and further in debt,” d’Anger says. “So I worked for two, three, four years in two full-time jobs so I could finally pay down the debt and start living a semi-reasonable lifestyle.”
Only about 30 per cent of Ontario’s college faculty comprises permanent staff. The others work contracts, meaning they reapply for their jobs every four months, don’t know the number of hours they are going to work from semester to semester, are sometimes hired the day the semester begins, and don’t get paid during holidays, or semester breaks and reading weeks.
The precarious jobs held by most faculty was one of the reasons behind the longest college strike in the province’s history. The union has demanded a 50:50 ratio between full-time and contract faculty, and greater job security for the latter.
“We have to beg for our jobs every four months because we have no job security – none,” d’Anger says.
d’Anger currently has different statuses at the two colleges that employ her. At Humber, she is a “partial-load” faculty member. Partial load staff have seven to 12 teaching hours a week, are unionized, have benefits but are paid at a lower rate than full-time faculty.
At Centennial, she is currently a “sessional” faculty member. Sessional staff teach full-time but until recently, got paid at a lower rate than partial-load faculty. Their workload is the same as those of full-time staff, but they are not unionized and are hired semester to semester.
During summers, d’Anger works as a part-timer. Part-time faculty work six teaching hours or less, and are the worst treated of the lot. They are not unionized, don’t have benefits and have traditionally been paid far less than everyone else.
For instance, as a part-timer d’Anger has earned $67 per teaching hour in the past (which doesn’t include the preparation, marking, and other work faculty do). As a partial-load member, she would earn $115 for the same work. Though the disparity has now decreased as a result of Bill 148’s reformation of labour laws.
“It’s exactly the same thing, exactly the same students, with little or no control over how much I work. And they just automatically reduce the hourly rate,” d’Anger says.
The benefits of Bill 148
Last November, thousands of Ontario’s contract faculty members got a boost with the passage of Bill 148: The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act. However, most of the legislation is now set to be repealed by the Ford government.
Although Bill 148 is commonly associated with raising the minimum wage (set to rise to $15 in Jan. 2019), it’s equal pay for equal work provision has meant a pay raise for many of those teaching in the college system.
With the legislation mandating that employees doing “substantially the same work” be paid at the same rate as their colleagues, colleges are compensating contract faculty better.
According to OPSEU, the college faculty union, many have witnessed a pay raise of about 30 to 40 per cent. For professors and instructors earning modestly, this has made a monumental difference.
d’Anger has seen her pay rise to $115 from $100 a teaching hour for her sessional role. For part-timers who were previously earning about $70 per teaching hour for the exact same job, the pay bump is obviously more significant.
But the application of this provision has been inconsistent. RM Kennedy, the faculty division chair at OPSEU, highlighted two broad problems:
-As opposed to all faculty getting a pay raise to match the compensation given to full-time staff, the colleges have decided to use partial-load faculty as the marker.
-Partial-load faculty have a wide pay scale. Thus, sessional or part-timers are earning more but have been placed at the bottom of the partial-load pay scale, regardless of their seniority.
“So what many colleges are doing is saying ‘okay we’ll pay the partial-load rate,’” Kennedy says. “But you may be a faculty member with 20 years of experience but they are putting you on the bottom of the partial-load scale so there’s a lot of manipulation of the wage grid.”
According to OPSEU, the colleges’ craftiness in implementing Bill 148’s pro-labour reforms extends to its handling of vacation pay. The law requires all employers to provide three weeks paid vacation (six per cent pay) to employees who have worked five years with the same employer.
But OPSEU says that although the colleges have ostensibly agreed to provide vacation pay to all contract faculty, they have balanced this out by reducing hourly pay by six per cent. In effect, this means contract faculty don’t receive vacation pay at all.
The College Employer Council ignored all requests for comment.
The arbitration verdict – in the aftermath of the five week-long college faculty strike – gave the two sides until November 2018 to reach an agreement on Bill 148-related compliance.
According to OPSEU, their proposal in regard to equal pay for equal work was rejected by the College Employer Council (CEC). The union says that the CEC did not show a commitment to the negotiating process.
Rena Borovilos, a psychology professor at Humber College, says the CEC had been waiting for the Ford government to repeal the legislation to render the negotiations meaningless.
“The [Conservative government] eliminated the task force on day one of Doug Ford’s tenure. What is that? That’s a signal to the College Employer Council that, ‘Hey. We are on your side,’” Borovilos says.
The CEC itself didn’t shy away from heaping praising on the Conservative government after the announcement to repeal Bill 148. Its press release noted that the Conservatives’ Making Ontario Open for Business Act (Bill 47) will help save costs.
In other words, contract faculty will become even cheaper with the repeal of the equal pay for equal work provision.
But the CEC doesn’t believe its staffing model is problematic. Don Sinclair, head of CEC, told Metro Morning last year that contract faculty provide agility and “colour commentary,” as industry professionals take on teaching duties in addition to their day jobs.
And while it’s true that some college faculty members work part-time by choice, OPSEU says that is the exception and not the norm.
Don Sinclair told me last year that if staffing models were to be changed – even though he didn’t believe that needed to be done – the college system would need to be better funded.
“Ontario colleges on a per-student basis have the lowest funding (in Canada),” he had said. “That does inform you about some of your decisions, and each college has to balance its budget.”
While RM Kennedy agrees that the college system is badly underfunded, he says the growing size of administration also indicates the flawed allocation of available resources.
OPSEU’s 2014 Report on Education notes that “between 1988 and 2004, full-time student enrolment increased by 53 per cent, while full-time faculty decreased by 22 per cent.” According to the report, the percentage of college administrative staff rose by 55 per cent from 1995 to 2011.
Precarious academics and the impact on students
Tanya d’Anger 27 hour classroom workload (besides grading, prep work, office hours and commuting between campuses on opposite sides of the city) leaves her with scarce time for her students.
“I try to schedule time that I set aside for office hours. So sometimes its straightforward for them to find me,” she says.
“But sometimes if I’m teaching at Centennial in the morning and race over to Humber to make sure I’m there within two hours, fighting the 401 [highway] to teach the next course, the Centennial students are screwed – especially if I’m teaching them at a very distant college campus where I won’t go until the next week.”
In terms of how well college students generally appreciate the faculty’s concerns is not clear. Although many students stood on picket lines and voiced their support for faculty, the College Student Alliance maintained a neutral stance during the strike. The CSA didn’t offer a comment for this story.
The precarious nature of academia may not be wholly understood by all students, but the evolution of the job market has laid a foundation for solidarity.
“We have students in all sorts of programs where when they go out in the world they will be on contracts. They will be making far less than people in their field who are full time,” says Borovilos.
“I think our students understand that and those who don’t, will understand it when they go out into the real world.”
Scrapping the College Task Force: An opportunity lost
The arbitrator’s decision at the end of the strike mandated the establishment of the College Task Force, which included representatives from colleges, faculty and students.
The task force was dealing with issues such as precarious academic work, student mental health and labour-market readiness. It released a preliminary report in April with its final recommendations due this fall.
But then, Doug Ford was elected. On day one, the Tory government dismissed the task force. The decision was decried by both OPSEU and the College Students Alliance, with the former consequently mounting a legal challenge.
The Minister of Labour, Laurie Scott, declined an interview request. Instead, a communications official from the ministry said that the government couldn’t comment on the task force due to the matter pending before the courts.
Kennedy says that the task force was important for the voice it gave to students, whose presence at the table had a positive impact on the discussions.
“Students were talking about what they really needed and what their real experience was,” she says. “Students could talk about their experience of contract faculty, what that meant, having precarious teachers and [their other concerns].”
The task force replicated the type of collegial model OPSEU wants, where students and faculty have a say in college governance and academic decision-making, Kennedy says.
On Monday October 15, college faculty were among thousands of people across the province who participated in the Day of Action to defend the legislation under the banner of Fight for $15 and Fairness. In Toronto, about five hundred people protested outside the Ministry of Labour.
At every college across Ontario, OPSEU and faculty members set up tables at campuses with petitions, flyers and banners to engage students.
“We got hundreds of students [coming to speak with us]. Just in a couple of hours, we got 300 signatures from students to protect Bill 148,” Kennedy says of his experience at a Centennial campus.
Kennedy noted that although students were signing the Fairness for College Faculty banners, they were especially interested in the minimum wage part of the legislation.
“We actually spent more time talking about the $15 minimum wage for students,” Kennedy laughs.
At George Brown’s St. James campus, social work student Katie Buchanan told me she works 25 hours a week while studying full-time.
“I think it’s really important to have a $15 minimum wage, because prices in this city are rising, and it’s an incredibly expensive city to live,” she said after signing the petition. “I know that as a student who is trying to pay her way through college and hold a job.”
While students and faculty had a free exchange at George Brown, the awareness drive didn’t work out so smoothly everywhere.
At some colleges, faculty’s request for tables and space allocation was turned down by management. According to sources, at Seneca they were forced to set-up outside the premises in the rain until management was shamed into letting them in.
The lingering fear
While hundreds of faculty members have asserted their right to demand for fair workplaces, their momentum continues to be marred by fear of reprisals.
“I had [full-time] colleagues from my department and contract faculty who wanted to participated in the action,” says Aparna Halpe, a full-time professor at Centennial. “But a few days ago, they started to say, ‘You know, I can’t do this, I am scared.’ Even full-time faculty fear reprisals.”
The stronger academic freedom language in the new collective agreement makes Halpe confident in case management strikes back. She explains that these out-of-classroom activities constitute educating students about issues that directly impact their lives, even as she is mindful that this premise may be challenged by the administration.
For Tanya d’Anger, fear no longer carries the meaning it once did. Seeing her colleagues being too scared to speak with the media during the strike made her more determined to speak out.
“I am very committed. Before the strike I wasn’t. If anything, I took it lying down. I figured I had to accept it the way it was,” she says. “Something just happened – to me at least – during the strike. And I said, ‘No, I’ll stand up for other people as well as myself.’”
“I am just tired of the bullshit. I am 59 and, I care but I don’t care anymore – I will not be bullied.”