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College faculty may go on strike Monday

Council representing college faculty says offer is comparable to others accepted by other public sector groups; Sault College undergoing ‘contingency planning’ for possible strike
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Sault College file photo. Darren Taylor/SooToday

Community College students academic lives may soon be disrupted by a faculty strike.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), the union representing faculty at Ontario’s 24 community colleges, including Sault College, has set a strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. Monday Oct. 16.

“While there is still time to reach a settlement and avoid an unnecessary strike, we are currently undergoing contingency planning. Our focus remains on our students as their education is our top priority,” wrote Ron Common, Sault College president, in a statement issued to SooToday Thursday.

“The College Employer Council and OPSEU have been working to negotiate a new collective agreement for our full-time and partial load faculty. The Colleges presented a final offer of settlement, which included several improvements along with a new maximum salary for full-time faculty of $115,378,” Common wrote.

“The Colleges believe that the offer is fair to our faculty and that it responded to what was heard at the bargaining table. This offer was rejected and the union has not modified any of its original demands,” Common wrote.

In a news release issued Wednesday, OPSEU criticized the College Employer Council, the bargaining agent for Ontario’s 24 community colleges in reaching collective agreements with unionized staff.

OPSEU stated the employer’s new ‘temporary full-time’ category of contract faculty, paid at the partial load rate, has no job security.

The union also states the employer wants to reduce full-time staffing, reduce starting salaries, is failing to address wages and benefits concerns and is offering no job security for part-time faculty.

“The faculty bargaining team is committed to staying at the table right up until the strike deadline. Council, however, has walked away from the table, and now claims that their offer was their final offer,” OPSEU stated.

“By setting a strike deadline, we are giving a clear message to the employer that we expect a fair deal for college faculty before Monday morning,” OPSEU wrote.

The Council, in its own academic bargaining update issued Tuesday, stated “The colleges’ final offer is comparable to, or better than, offers accepted recently by other public-sector employees, such as teachers, public servants, and college support staff.”

The Council said the final offer includes, among other items,

  • a 7.5 per cent salary increase over four years
  • improved conversion of contract faculty to full-time positions 
  • enhanced benefits   

The Council also states “the colleges have been clear to the union that its proposals are not the basis for a settlement.”

The Council also states “the union’s proposals would eliminate 4,280 contract faculty jobs, increase costs by $400 million annually, change the governance of colleges, and restrict the colleges from overseeing academic delivery…we need practical proposals from the union to be successful. The colleges remain committed to achieving a negotiated settlement, which is fair to our faculty while being affordable and responsible for the colleges.”

Regardless, OPSEU, which represents more than 12,000 professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians in the college system, stated “the employer’s so-called ‘final offer’ is a poisoned pill. It fundamentally undermines the quality and fairness we have been working towards in this round of bargaining.”

Under the rules laid out in the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act, the union is required to give five days notice prior to going on strike, and the College Employer Council must give five days notice of a lockout.