Ruling on part-time college worker unionization expected soon

Vote on whether part-time college workers in Ontario would join OPSEU held in June 2016

It’s been nearly a year since part-time support staff at Ontario colleges voted on whether to join the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

While the ballot boxes remain sealed, and the votes inside uncounted, both the College Employers Council (CEC), who is representing colleges in Ontario and OPSEU anticipate that the saga will be over soon.

According to Janice Hagan, OPSEU’s chair of the provincial support staff division, the long running effort to unionize part-time support staff in the province has not quelled interest in the campaign.

“People are asking me on a daily basis ‘what’s going on, when are the ballots going to be opened?’ ”

Before the ballot boxes can be opened and the votes counted, the Ontario Labour Relations Board has to determine whether OPSEU has had 35 per cent of eligible part-time college staff sign union cards. If the board finds that enough valid cards have been collected, it will then count the results of June 2016 representation vote.

Part of the delay, Hagan said, is because both OPSEU and CEC have their own lists of who was eligible to sign the cards.  And the names of individual part-time staff, which number in the thousands, are contested practically one by one between the two parties.

“It’s very complicated,” Hagan said.

While this process has been long, it’s still short compared to a previous attempt by OPSEU to organize part-time staff at Ontario colleges, which was announced in April 2008. In that instance, OPSEU applied to represent part-time staff at the board in July of 2009. In August of 2013, more than four years later, the board found that the union did meet the 35 per cent threshold of signed cards from eligible part-time staff.

Don Sinclair, CEC’s chief executive officer, said that one of the issues that held up a decision back then was that there was “no framework as to what constituted a part-time employee.”

OPSEU’s current application has had its issues as well, including a judicial review that CEC launched in Ontario to throw out a board ruling allowing the representation vote to be held in June.

In a statement on its website, CEC said that holding the vote outside of the academic year, “seriously limited student employees and other part-time employees from the ability to participate in an important vote on union representation.” In its filings with the board on the matter, CEC noted that there were 7029 students employees at Ontario colleges in March 2016 and 2289 by May 31, 2016.

For Hagan, holding the vote in June didn’t affect students’ ability to participate.

“At most of the colleges we have three full semesters now and students aren’t in a traditional mode where they’re only going to school from September to April and then off all summer like the University model,” she said.

Last December, an Ontario court upheld the decision to hold the vote in June 2016, finding no basis to interfere with the board’s ruling.

With the judicial review over, and both OPSEU and CEC now comparing names, Hagan is confident that the union will have the signed cards of more than 35 per cent of part-time college support staff. She added that she’s hoping the results of the application will come in few weeks.

Sinclair is anticipating hearing from the labour board “any day.”

“I think that people at some point would like to see the outcome on this, and the colleges will accept whatever decision comes out of the labour board.”

If OPSEU meets the 35 per cent card mark, it will need more than 50 per cent of votes casts in favour of unionizing to represent part-time college staff in Ontario.

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Ruling on part-time college worker unionization expected soon