Voting is underway on the latest contract offer from the employer that could end a strike by college faculty in Ontario that is into its fifth week.

Online voting began at 9 a.m. Tuesday and will continue through Thursday.

If the offer is endorsed, the College Employer Council says 500,000 students across the province could be back in classes as early as next Tuesday.

In the lead-up to the vote, the council created a new website to counter what it claims is "misinformation" being spread by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents faculty.

But the union is calling the council's website "misleading". Darryl Bedford, the local union president at Fanshawe College and a member of the provincial bargaining committee, said  the colleges "continue to insist that their offer has no (forced) concessions, when in fact it does."

Darryl Bedford 2

Local union president Darryl Bedford says the contract offer contains "forced concessions" around workload and staffing. (Gary Ennett/CBC News)

He said members are being encouraged to reject the offer because of the concessions.

Bedford is also critical of the employer's decision to take the offer directly to faculty, bypassing the union's leadership.

"It's very aggressive on their part. They're hoping that people will be desperate, that people will not read what the concessions are, and that they'll just blindly vote to accept. Well, our members are not going to do that. They're reading the offer, they're asking questions."

The president of Fanshawe College, Peter Devlin defended the employer's decision to go around the union when he appeared earlier today on CBC's London Morning.

"I wouldn't classify it that way. I think it's really just an effort on the council's part to ensure that faculty are aware of what the offer is, what the issues are, and to be able to answer some of the questions that we heard from faculty, " said Devlin.

Peter Devlin

Fanshawe College president Peter Devlin says the colleges are working out the details of a fund to help students who have suffered financial hardship during the strike. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

He also said the colleges are still working out the details of a fund that will assist students who have experienced financial hardship during the strike. He confirmed that the funding will consist of faculty salaries and wages not paid during the strike.

Devlin said he empathizes with students who, he acknowledged, have a host of concerns, ranging from uncertain travel plans, to the school year being extended to Dec. 22, to accommodation challenges, child care and parking.

 "There's a long list of issue that are troublesome for students, and we look to help them navigate through those challenges."

Asked whether he was concerned that morale among college faculty will be low when they return to the classroom, Devlin said "while I think there will be a bit of awkwardness as we start up after the strike, I'm confident it will quickly disappear … and we'll all be focused on supporting students."

With files from Paula Duhatschek