UPDATE: NDP Blocks Legislation To End Strike At Ontario Colleges

Premier Kathleen Wynne file photo. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

The Ontario NDP has blocked Premier Kathleen Wynne’s attempt to table legislation to put striking college faculty back to work, and end the longest college strike in the province’s history.

Wynne said in a statement that the government hoped to have the back-to-work legislation tabled Thursday evening, to return students to the classroom on Monday.

“Under the proposed legislation… all outstanding issues would be referred to binding mediation-arbitration,” she said.

A tweet from the Ontario Liberal press secretary stated that the party intends to ask the speaker at the Legislature to reconvene the house at 3pm on Friday to try again to table the legislation, and they are prepared to sit throughout the weekend until it is passed.

The move to table legislation comes on the same day that it was announced unionized faculty had voted 86% against accepting the College Employer Council’s latest offer. The council had asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board to take the vote directly to the 12,000 college instructors, counselors, and librarians at the province’s 24 public colleges after talks broke down last week. However, OPSEU urged faculty to vote “no.”

Following her party’s move to block the Liberal, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said “New Democrats will not support any legislation that takes away the rights of any workers in this province.”

“The premier has the ability to call the legislature back, and the NDP is prepared to sit through the weekend to debate this move,” said Horwath in a statement. “I want students back in classrooms Monday, and I want that achieved through a deal… Now that this has become a political problem for the Liberal party, [Wynne] is ramming through reckless back-to-work legislation.”

However, Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown has said his party will support back-to-work legislation, despite blaming Wynne for the length of the work stoppage.

“My message to the premier is this: as her meeting with both sides failed to produce concrete results and a negotiated settlement, we will support back-to-work legislation to get students back in class on Monday,” said Brown. “It is the right thing to do for students.”

The strike, which is now in its fifth week, has cancelled classes for more than half a million students across the province.

Wynne said members of the College Employer Council and the faculty union, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), agreed to try and find a solution by 5pm on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, we have heard from the parties that they have reached an impasse in negotiations and that they have not agreed to binding arbitration,” said Wynne.

According to a statement released by the College Employer Council, OPSEU tabled new demands during talks on Thursday that included a $5,000 return to work bonus for each striking faculty member. The council also said the union refused arbitration.

The council said it supports the government introducing back-to-work legislation “as soon as possible.”

OPSEU on the other hand, has urged the government to disband the College Employer Council, after the council refused to remove the “poison pills” in its offer and made no move toward a settlement.  The union added that faculty offered to send a key bargaining item, academic freedom, to arbitration.

No Ontario college student has ever lost their semester because of a strike. However, previous strikes at the province’s colleges, in 1984, 1989, and 2006, were resolved in about three weeks.

-With files from Miranda Chant