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College faculty reject offer, strike continues (updated, OPSEU reaction)

Strike now in its fifth week; both sides say they want to bargain
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20171016-Sault College strike-DT-05
Faculty at Sault College have been on strike since Oct. 16. Darren Taylor/SooToday

After three days of voting, striking Ontario community college faculty members represented by OPSEU have turned down the back-to-work offer from the College Employer Council, the group which represents Ontario’s 24 community colleges.

Faculty went on strike Oct. 16.

“We are incredibly pleased by the turnout. I’ve been told it’s 95 per cent, and 86 per cent in rejection,” said Frank Turco, OPSEU local 613 president in Sault Ste. Marie, speaking to SooToday.

At the same time, Turco said “our team has made it very clear they’re ready to bargain effective this afternoon.”

“We know it’s been a difficult process for our students. We look forward to the day we return to the classroom with our students and we miss them dearly,” Turco said.

It is not yet known how great a percentage of Sault College faculty rejected the offer, but Turco told us “I did get the sense our local faculty were very concerned about the language in the offer…I’m suspecting the results locally will be similar to the provincial average.”

The Colleges offer, which OPSEU rejected, includes a 7.75 per cent salary increase over four years, improved benefits and addressing of concerns regarding part-time faculty.

OPSEU stated the issue of academic freedom for faculty over how they deliver course material and other “serious concessions” still remain. 

“The return to work protocol was taking the union’s ability to represent the members out of the equation. Basically there was no opportunity to grieve unfair practices, it had unlimited overtime capabilities, it had language that basically made it difficult for the union to represent its membership,” Turco said.

“There were issues like how a particular member could effectively arrange for deals that appeared to be individual bargaining  situations,” Turco added.

“Faculty recognized this was a dangerous position and regressive and never addressed the issues we went on strike for, which are quality education and having more full-time employment for faculty where appropriate.”

“What we want our students to understand is we weren’t just talking about creating full-time employment just for us, but also trying to draw attention to the way work is going in all sectors. We’re very concerned about our students and their ability to create a full-time livelihood at the end of the day,” Turco said.

“The Colleges bargaining team is in touch with the mediator for a resumption of bargaining,” said Rick Webb, Sault College human resources and corporate communications director.

“We respect the faculty have exercised their democratic right, we like the fact they were able to vote…(but) the strike continues,” Webb said.

The Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB), on Nov. 7, ordered a faculty vote to be held from 9 a.m. Tuesday through 10 a.m. Thursday as the strike by OPSEU-represented faculty wore on.

Some students in Ontario have raised the possibility of a class action lawsuit against the Colleges, wanting at least a partial refund of tuition, while others have mused about quitting college, feeling their semester and school year is lost.

If faculty had approved the offer, it was hoped classes would resume Nov. 20 and continue to Dec. 22, resuming Jan. 3.

“What I can say is we’re extremely disappointed by the result as we wanted classes to resume early next week. We feel for the students caught in the middle of this dispute. The Minister has already announced a hardship fund for students, the details of that continue to be worked out by the 24 colleges, and more information will be forthcoming about that,” Webb said.

Premier Kathleen Wynne was to meet with both sides in the dispute Thursday, amid suggestions the province might order faculty back to work.

“We will not speculate (on that possibility). We don’t know what will happen, and for anyone to say they know what will happen would be really presumptuous. We respect the bargaining process. Bargaining will continue,” Webb said. 

“I can’t speculate whether that will happen,” Turco agreed, speaking on OPSEU’s behalf.

“We are ready to bargain immediately and hope we can get this done,” Turco said.

The College Employer Council released the following statement Thursday morning:

“Ontario college faculty have exercised their democratic right and by rejecting the offer have chosen to continue to strike. This is a terrible result for the 500,000 students who remain out of class. I completely sympathize with our students who have been caught in this strike for more than four weeks. This strike has gone on for too long – and we still need to resolve it and get our students and faculty back in class,” wrote Sonia Del Missier, Colleges bargaining team chair.

“The college bargaining team will be in touch with the provincially appointed mediator to seek his direction to the parties.”