Colleges call for vote on final offer

The Canadian Press
Shawn Jeffords

TORONTO–Ontario’s colleges have asked striking faculty members to resume classes ahead of a vote on a final contract offer.
The College Employer Council, which represents the province’s 24 colleges, said yesterday it had asked Ontario’s Labour Relations Board to schedule the vote after bargaining talks broke down.
The council has asked the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, representing the 12,000 college workers, to suspend the strike in the five-10 days it will take to organize the vote.
OPSEU, however, said there were no plans to suspend the nearly month-long labour disruption.
The strike, which involves college professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians, began Oct. 15 and has left 500,000 full-time and part-time students out of class.
Sonia Del Missier, chair of the colleges’ bargaining team, said the council had addressed the union’s concerns about job security, wages, and academic freedom.
“We made significant moves and addressed all faculty priorities,” she noted.
“The offer that is available for faculty right now should have ended this strike that is now entering its fourth week.”
The government also has agreed to establish a task force on the future of Ontario
colleges that will look at various issues, including the staffing model and the issue of precarious work–a key union concern, Del Missier added.
“We need to end this strike right now,” she stressed. “And we need to get faculty and students back in the classroom.
“So it’s now time to hear directly from our faculty.”
The labour board will determine the date of the vote, but the council has asked that balloting be held on all college campuses to ensure the largest number of faculty possible can participate.
A vote of 50 percent plus one is all that is required to accept the deal and end the strike.
But Kevin MacKay, a member of the OPSEU faculty bargaining team, said the union won’t agree to suspend the strike in the lead-up to the vote.
“That is something no group on strike would ever do, especially on an offer we can’t recommend,” he remarked.
“The council can say a lot of things but that’s a ridiculous thing to ask.”
OPSEU bargaining chair JP Hornick said the colleges walked away from the talks when only one outstanding issue–a request on academic freedom–remained unsettled, despite the colleges’ assertion that all concerns had been addressed.
“The only outstanding piece left on the table was a zero-cost item about who makes decisions in the classroom,” Hornick noted.
“They have decided to put the semester in serious jeopardy and cause even further hardship to the students.”
Hornick said the union expects members will reject the college council’s offer in the vote.
After three weeks away from the table, negotiations had resumed last week at the urging of Advanced Education minister Deb Matthews, who asked both sides to get a deal done.
In a statement yesterday, Matthews said the government wants to see students return to the classroom as quickly as possible.
“I know students are feeling the effects of this strike deeply,” she noted.
“I share their concern.”