Ontario Public Service Employees Union votes to reject College Employer Council’s offer to settle

Ontario Colleges strike enters fifth week

College faculty protesting at St. Lawrence College on Monday.

On Nov. 16, the Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU) voted to reject the College Employer Council’s (CEC) Nov. 6 offer to settle ongoing disputes in a landslide 86 per cent vote against the proposed contract. OPSEU called the vote “historic.”

JP Hornick, chair of the faculty bargaining team for OPSEU, released a statement about the OPSEU’s choice to reject the offer. 

“No one is surprised that college faculty rejected the Council’s forced offer,” Hornick wrote. “It was full of concessions and failed to address our concerns around fairness for faculty or education quality. We stand with hundreds of thousands of college students when we say ‘enough already.’”

After failing to reach an agreement in early October, Ontario colleges faculty went on strike to pressure CEC into a formal negotiation. 

According to a press release from President and Executive Director of the St. Lawrence College student association Beth Insley, the issues that prompted the faculty strike were, “wage increases, job security, part-time and full-time employee ratios and academic decision making processes.” 

In a Nov. 13 webcast, Sonia Del Missier, Chair of the Colleges’ Bargaining Team said “I know from being involved with previous strikes that when this is all over we have to work together again to serve our students. I have too much respect for your dedication, hard work, and expertise to offer you a contract that doesn’t address your concerns raised during bargaining.”

“This impasse is completely frustrating for us and for you, but I know that our frustration is nothing compared with the frustration that 500,000 students out of class are feeling right now,” Del Missier added.

In anticipation of this week’s OPSEU vote, faculty, staff and student protests heated up across the province. On top of this, faculty protests continued outside of St. Lawrence College early this week. Educators picketed the school’s entrance this past Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Sunday, an open letter written by Deborah Megens, a Professor at Sheridan College, was posted to the OPSEU local244 website expressing frustration towards the CEC’s treatment of negotiations so far. 

“We have tried. From the beginning of contract negotiations in July 2017, we (faculty, librarians, and counsellors) came to the bargaining table with integrity, critical thinking, creative solutions, a willingness to engage in collective problem solving, a solid commitment to social justice, and a passion for the betterment of education,” Megens wrote. 

“The College Employer Council (CEC) has not,” Megens continued, “from the beginning, the CEC tabled an unacceptable, concession-laden ‘Final Offer’ that will have devastating consequences for the college education system — and it was non-negotiable.”

According to CBC, schools affected by the strike “have started to roll out revised schedules and policies to accommodate students facing financial costs due to the strike.”

In an attempt to save the fall semester, several institutions have been re-working class dates. Some have even pushed the first date back to as late as Dec. 22, and continuing into 2018. 

Back in October, over 16,000 students signed an online petition, featuring the hashtag #wepaytolearn. Here, they demanded their tuition money back if the fall semester was lost as a result of the strike.

Amir Allana, a co-author of the petition, told CBC Toronto, “we want to send a clear message to both college administrations and unionized faculty: We pay your salaries. It is our tuition money that you are fighting over. Get back to the bargaining table, compromise and figure it out. Or we want our money back.” 

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