About 9,000 faculty members at 24 Ontario colleges are eligible to vote Wednesday. Results are expected Wednesday evening. ((CBC))

Ontario's roughly 9,000 college instructors have given their union the green light to strike at the province's two dozen community colleges.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union said Wednesday night that about 57 per cent of members who voted supported strike action.

The vote on a strike mandate came after five months of talks with the colleges broke down Dec. 15.

Ted Montgomery of the OPSEU bargaining team, which represents faculty members, said a walkout wouldn't happen for at least a month.

For the union, key issues are workload, academic freedom and management's decision in November to impose its offer on the teachers without a vote.

The colleges said in a release that their offer would increase salaries by eight per cent over four years and raise the maximum salary to $103,975.

Training, Colleges and Universities Minister John Milloy urged both sides Wednesday night to keep the best interests of 200,000 full-time students in mind and return to the bargaining table as soon as possible.

"I am very concerned that the ongoing contract dispute between faculty and Colleges has the potential to interrupt classes for thousands of Ontario students," Milloy said in a release.

Workload was also the top issue when college teachers went on strike for three weeks in 2006, Montgomery said. The previous contract expired Aug. 31, 2009.

The union wants a 2.5 per cent pay increase in each year of a three-year contract. Both sides have indicated they would like to resume talks.

About 9,000 full-time and part-time teachers, counsellors and librarians were eligible to vote.

The union has indicated the earliest possible labour disruption would be February, Algonquin College president and CEO Robert Gillett assured students in a letter earlier in the week.

"If there is a strike, colleges will develop semester completion plans to help students complete their studies and not lose the term," the letter added.

The union must give five days notice to be in a legal strike position.