Here's What's Happening with the College Strike in Ontario
As students hoping to pursue or complete their diplomas or other courses no doubt know, the Ontario college strike is still in effect.
As for what's happening, the College Employer Council recently called on the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)—the union representing striking workers—to suspend the strike and re-start classes. The Labour Board also announced that it's set to hold a faculty vote on the employer offer—a vote the OPSEU isn't on board with.
Recently, The OPSEU countered that the Council should be working out a deal at the bargaining table instead of calling a "strike-prolonging vote" on its final offer.
"Rather than continue to bargain, the colleges have called a vote that, in itself, could easily keep faculty and students out of their classrooms for another two weeks," said JP Hornick, chair of the faculty bargaining team for the OPSEU.
The council says the OPSEU has "stonewalled the bargaining process" and refused to accept an offer that addresses their priorities.
“OPSEU’s insistence on continuing the strike is a terrible outcome for students and faculty,” said Sonia Del Missier, chair, Colleges’ Bargaining Team. “We addressed all faculty priorities and the offer that is available for faculty right now - on the table - should have ended this strike.”
The Council says the colleges listened to the union and addressed its priorities with solutions on:
- Enhancing full-time employment opportunities for contract faculty
- Increasing pay
- Greater rights for contract faculty
- Better job security for contract faculty
- Academic freedom guarantees, and
- Faster compliance with Bill 148
- Furthermore, the government has agreed to establish a task force on the future of Ontario colleges that will look at various issues, including staffing models and the issue of precarious work.
Yesterday, Ontario colleges announced that they have asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) to schedule a vote on the colleges’ offer. Since OLRB staff must be in attendance for votes at more than 100 campuses across the province, the OPSEU says the move could prolong the strike, pointing out that a strike vote by college faculty in September took two weeks to organize and complete.
"We have said all along that faculty have a better plan for the colleges, and we do," said Hornick. "Our objective since we began bargaining in July has been to improve education quality for students and fairness for faculty."
The Council is still pursuing a vote.
“We need to end this strike and get students back in the classroom. We have asked the Labour Board to schedule a vote and let our faculty decide,” said Del Missier.
As of yesterday (Nov. 6), the colleges have requested that the strike be suspended so that staff and students can return to class while the vote is being organized. The Council added that suspending the strike will "also allow voting at college campus locations so that the largest number of faculty are able to exercise their right to vote."
OPSEU says it has a different plan.
"Our better plan is this: If the colleges come to the table now and bargain a settlement that our team can recommend, we can have faculty back in the classrooms tomorrow and hold the ratification vote after" said Hornick.
In a statement, Hornick said the only issue in dispute now is a no-cost item about faculty making decisions about what's best in their classrooms. She argued that the Council has insisted on "keeping serious concessions in to undermine the progress that had been made at the table."
"Negotiation is the only way to go at this juncture," OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said. "I agree completely with recent statements by the Premier and by Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews that the solution to this strike is at the bargaining table. The strike has gone on long enough, and we don't need employer-caused delays making it go even longer."
As far as the vote goes, the Labour Board will determine the date.
It is expected that the vote will take between five and 10 days to organize.
“An employer vote is never a preferred path, because a settlement should be reached at the bargaining table. But we have exhausted all efforts at the bargaining table and now our faculty will decide,” said Del Missier.
The Council says the colleges tabled an offer with better access to full-time jobs, additional rights, security and compensation for partial-load faculty, increased salaries and benefits for full-time faculty and more.
OPSEU is holding a press conference with college faculty on Tuesday at noon to address the current state of negotiations.