Family Feuds At The Bargaining Table

Below is an excerpt from author Orland French’s book, PIONEERING: A History of Loyalist College (1992). While some references are no longer current, the publication provides a rich report on Loyalist’s history, which helps to contextualize its milestones. To read more from Mr. French’s book, please click here

The College community has not always been one big happy family.

Labour disputes and strikes have occasionally marred the first 25 years of Loyalist College, as negotiations with teachers as well as support staff came to an impasse. Teacher strikes in 1984 and in 1989 and a support staff strike in 1979 were the low points of labour-management relations in the college system.

Because college unions negotiate on a province-wide basis, most bargaining is done in Toronto while the voting takes place on individual campuses. Over the years, the labour force has grown. Whereas 3,500 teachers across the province went to arbitration with the Council of Regents in 1971, more than 8,800 teachers went on strike in 1989 and shut down the entire college system. One of the central issues in the 1971 dispute was a complaint by college teachers that they were not making as much money as high school teachers. The average salary for a college teacher was $10,000.

Negotiations for a contract renewal came to a standstill in 1974, leading to a one-day study session by teachers who were endeavouring to get negotiators back to the bargaining table. The Council of Regents offered a maximum salary level of $20,000.

Support staff went on strike in 1979 for 14 days, although classes continued with some difficulty. By this time, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) had succeeded the Civil Service Association of Ontario (CSAO) at the bargaining unit for college employees.

Loyalist’s 194 teachers went on strike in 1984, joining a walkout by 7,600 teachers across the province. The College did not close and students were encouraged to use the facilities as best they could until the strike ended.

Minister of Colleges and Universities, Bette Stephenson promised that teaching time would be made up in the Christmas and winter breaks, if necessary. The major point of disagreement was the amount of time teachers put in outside the classroom. Teachers wanted that time taken into account in the computation of their teaching hours.

But the longest and bitterest strike was yet to come.

Teachers walked off the job for four weeks in the fall of 1989. In that time, a significant number of students walked away from a college education. At Loyalist, about 200 students demanded and got their tuition fees back as a result of the strike, diminishing the student population by 8.3 percent. Again as in 1971, teachers did not realize their goal of surpassing the pay levels of high school teachers. They did win, however, some concessions on job security and retraining. The average salary level reached $45,000.

Because of the prolonged strike, Loyalist revised its fall and winter semesters to make up for lost teaching time. Classes continued to December 23, spring break was cancelled, and the winter semester was extended to May 4.