On January 10, 2018, history was made as the largest organizing drive in Canada in this century resulted in giving union voice to 20,000 workers. The certification vote for part-time support staff at 24 Community Colleges held in June 2016 was finally counted, and 84% of ballots cast were to join OPSEU.
The union already represented all full-time faculty and support staff at the colleges, and started pressuring the Ontario government in 2004 to make changes to the College Collective Bargaining Act to grant part time support staff to the right to unionize. The changes were won in 2008, and OPSEU made its first attempt to organize but was not successful. The nature of part-time work in 24 colleges with a hundred campuses added to the difficulty of organizing. With a 30% staff turnover per year, job roles vary greatly; from student ambassadors to mechanics, advisors, library techs, to IT support roles. Winning a threshold of signed cards required a new organizing strategy. With workers spread out across the province, the campaign came up with a number of creative strategies to get union cards signed.
Holding meetings was not enough. Irregular schedules and some CAAT-PT staff work off campus resulted in a strong online element being developed using social media and a game app to help staff to get cards signed. Getting the vote out, though a daunting task, was successful thanks to local labour councils and volunteers who stepped up and helped OPSEU organizers and part time support staff who were active on the campaign.
OPSEU’s successful organizing shows that precarious workers can be organized in non-traditional workplaces. Creative use of technology, a big commitment by existing unions, and worker tenacity are key to future victories.