OPSEU Local 138 president at St. Clair College Bernie Nawrocki, far left, speaks with picketing faculty at St. Clair Colleges main Windsor campus, November 8, 2017. Photo by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

Reported Union Demand Complicates Prospective Collective Agreement

A new demand from the union that represents striking faculty at Ontario’s 24 community colleges makes the prospect of a quick collective agreement less likely than ever.

That, from the colleges.

While the Ontario government makes another attempt to push a back-to-work bill through the legislature, colleges complain the Ontario Public Service Employees Union want a $5,000 return-to-work bonus for each striking member.

The College Employer Council says the money would have to come out of a student hardship fund that Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews demanded last week. It says the demand would amount to more than $60-million across the system.

“OPSEU’s actions at the table moved us further away from a settlement,” says Sonia Del Missier, a member of the colleges’ bargaining team. “Bargaining should have been focusing on getting students back to class, but OPSEU chose the path of signing bonuses for faculty.”

The council says it wanted students to return to class immediately with all outstanding issues to be sent to arbitration. It says the union refused and made the demand instead.

When Matthews recommended sending the outstanding issue of academic freedom to the government task force on the future of Ontario colleges, the council says the union, again, refused.

The union tells a different story. It says it did agree to sending academic freedom to arbitration.

“In a joint meeting [Thursday] afternoon with the premier and Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews, it became clear that, of the three parties in the room, only two were concerned with saving the semester,” says J.P. Hornick, chair of the OPSEU college faculty bargaining team. “One of those parties, the College Employer Council, refused to accept that their approach to bargaining had failed, and refused to do anything to get our students back to class.”

Hornick says the council refused to remove so-called “poison pills” in its offer.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has vowed MPPs will sit all weekend if need be to pass back-to-work legislation. If it passes, students could be back in class early next week.

On the legislation, OPSEU President Smokey Thomas laid the blame at council’s door.

“When our team made a last-ditch effort to get students back to class on Monday, the colleges dug in even further,” he said. “If there is going to be legislation, it should include measures to disband the College Employer Council altogether.”

“Council is a shadowy agency beyond the reach of freedom of information and salary disclosure laws, yet it is funded entirely by public dollars and students’ tuition,” he continued. “It exists for no other reason, but to enrich its directors, and it should be outlawed.”