Striking members of Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 110 picket outside of Fanshawe College’s Centre for Digital and Performing Arts in London, October 24, 2017. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

College Forcing Union’s Hand

Accusing the union representing faculty at Ontario’s 24 public colleges of “stonewalling the bargaining process,” the College Employer Council is taking steps to force a vote on its latest offer.

Talks between the council and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) broke off Monday afternoon, just five days after the two sides returned to the bargaining table for the first time since the start of October.

“OPSEU’s insistence on continuing the strike is a terrible outcome for students and faculty,” said council Bargaining Chair Sonia Del Missier in a statement. “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 has now asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board to schedule a vote on its latest offer. It’s the council’s one chance, under Ontario’s labour laws, to take its offer directly to the membership with a vote.

While awaiting the vote, which could take up to ten days to organize, the council has requested the strike be suspended.

“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 Missier.

Roughly 12,000 college instructors, counselors, and librarians walked off the job on October 16, cancelling classes for more than half a million students. Originally, job security has been the key bargaining issue for the union. It had been seeking a 50/50 split of full time and contract positions and an increased role in academic decision-making.

The council maintains it has tabled an offer that addresses faculty priorities, but the union is refusing to accept it. According to the council, the latest offer enhances full-time employment opportunities and rights for contract faculty, increases pay by 7.75% over four years, offers better job security, and guarantees academic freedom.

However, the language in the latest offer appears to be the new point of contention with the union.

OPSEU Local 110 President Darryl Bedford. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

“They came with an offer that was virtually unchanged,” said Darryl Bedford, OPSEU bargaining team member and Fanshawe College information technology instructor. “They are stuck on language that would prevent the union from challenging part time staffing, language that would undermine the positive effects of Bill 148 – equal pay for equal work.”

Bedford said he wants Ontarians to know that the union came to the bargaining table in good faith.

“We were ready, willing and able to bargain and the union proposed very innovative solutions and got to the point where all of the cost items were dealt with. This is not a battle over money,” said Bedford. “This is about how our members do their work in the classroom, how our positions are protected now and in the future, and dealing with issues effecting the system such as precarious work. This was never about salary and benefits. This was about our working conditions and it’s disappointing that the college is not willing to meet us somewhere in the middle.”

Prior to talks breaking down, Fanshawe College had announced plans to extend classes and exams by one week from December 15 to December 22. College officials have also been encouraging students to continue their studies independently by completing homework assignments, continuing textbook readings, and research projects.

Ontario college students have never lost a year because of a strike. However, previous strikes at the province’s colleges, in 1984, 1989, and 2006, were resolved in about three weeks.