by Eva McDonald

If you were on the faculty picket line in October 2017, you surely noticed that there was massive support from students, bargaining units from Ontario universities, other unions like CUPE , ETFO, and OSSTF, among others, and the public in general. That support was not spontaneous. Instead, it was the result of over 3 years of direct organizing under the grassroots $15 & Fairness banner.

Some faculty are surprised when they learn that OPSEU CAAT-A is an integral part of $15 & Fairness. The confusion is because college faculty do not benefit directly from many of the basic rights that $15 & Fairness fights for, such as a higher minimum wage, 7 paid leave days, 3 weeks of vacation, protections for migrant workers, etc. Within that context, why do we support $15 & Fairness?

The obvious reason is that $15 & Fairness advocates for equal pay for equal work, which definitely affects contract faculty. Beyond that, a compelling reason is that student issues are our issues. Many of our students work full- or part-time, often for minimum wage, often in precarious jobs with no benefits, often in multiple jobs. In this respect, they have much in common with contract faculty. We have all seen the effects of financial stress on student mental health and because these students are in our classrooms, we cannot avoid dealing with it.

Looking at the bigger picture, there are fewer unionized workers in Ontario than in the past, with the slide accelerating in the Mike Harris years. The current situation means that for the dwindling numbers of union members to be more effective, we need to band together to leverage our power. For example, it’s easy to ignore the York University food service workers on strike if you have no dealings with York – it’s a lot harder if many unions including your own walk the picket line with the York workers to draw media attention to the issues of inequality.

An ongoing challenge for $15 & Fairness organizers is fighting against the government’s divide and conquer strategy. We are familiar with this gambit, where the government tries to pit students against faculty, or minimum wage workers against migrant workers and immigrants, hoping we fight each other in what they want us to believe is a zero sum game. Organizing under the wider $15 & Fairness umbrella ensures that we do not fall into this trap. Instead, we work to raise the tide that lifts all the boats. This is why we, college faculty, fight for a better minimum wage and rights for migrant workers, even if we do not benefit directly from the victories.

On the weekend of February 23 and 24, $15 & Fairness held a provincial strategy meeting hosted by Ryerson University. OPSEU Local 558 members were present along with faculty from other colleges and universities, as well as student leaders to coordinate campus organizing. We have &15 & Fairness events planned and are counting on your strong support.

Join us on Wednesday, February 27 at the University of Toronto’s downtown campus to, “Say NO to Bill 66” (click here for the Facebook event page).

Despite the setback with Doug Ford’s Bill 47, our movement protected modest but important gains for workers. Now, Bill 66 threatens to cut important workplace regulations, like scrapping the requirement for employers to put up an Employment Standards Act poster in the workplace, and making it harder for workers to be paid for overtime and unionize.

We will be canvassing at University of Toronto’s Sidney Smith Hall, along with a short meeting in advance to brief everyone on Bill 66 and our campaign.  Meet us inside the Sidney Smith lobby at 11:30 am, after which we will be talking to students about their labour rights from 12 – 1 pm!

Please RSVP here: