As the ongoing Ontario colleges strike enters its fifth week, students from P.E.I. are among those trying to cope with being out of the classroom. 

For Melissa MacKenzie from Cornwall, P.E.I., a fourth year student in Sheridan College's musical theatre performance program, it means standing in solidarity with her faculty and professors.

"We want to make sure the faculty is well supported and they are trying to support us," MacKenzie said.  

college strike

Melissa MacKenzie, a musical theatre student from Cornwall, P.E.I., says the strike has made travelling home a challenge for many out-of-province students. (Submitted by Melissa MacKenzie)

MacKenzie, along with hundreds of other students, joined faculty and staff at Sheridan College's Trafalgar campus Monday to rally for fair wages and employment security for faculty members. 

Since Oct. 16, about 500,000 college students across Ontario have been missing classes amid the strike involving 12,000 college workers represented by the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU), and the province's 24 colleges, which are represented by the College Employer Council (CEC).   

Costs to students

While it is important to stand by her professors, Mackenzie said, the strike has been challenging for many students in her program. 

She said in addition to lost class time, the strike is costing students money in the form of lost tuition. The musical theatre program costs about $370 per week, she said, and she has now lost five weeks of class.

The college has not said it will reimburse students for tuition, only that it will make up the lost class time, Mackenzie added. 

college strike

College faculty are set to vote after being on strike since Oct. 16. (Submitted by Michael Kennedy)

 

"They're saying that they're going to make up for that instruction, but adding one week to make up for five missed weeks of instruction is not going to cut it," Mackenzie said. 

MacKenzie said the strike is also making it difficult for out-of-province students to make plans to travel home for the holidays. Students have been told the semester will now extend to Dec. 22 and students are expected to resume classes on Jan. 2. 

"That's affected people's Christmas plans and people's flights, which has been a mess," Mackenzie said. "I'm only going to see my parents and my family for a couple of days." 

It's been an emotional time for a lot of people, MacKenzie said.

"It's our education and it's our last year here for some of us and it's disappointing."  

Faculty to vote  

The Ontario Labour Relations Board has scheduled a vote next week for college faculty. The CEC asked Ontario's Labour Relations Board on Monday to schedule the vote.

A spokesperson for the CEC, told CBC News the vote will take place between Nov. 14 and Nov. 16.

Ontario's colleges have launched a website they say will allow striking faculty members to see what's in their employers' latest contract offer ahead of a vote this week.

If the offer is accepted, the CEC says 500,000 students affected by the strike could be back in the classroom as early as next Tuesday.

Delayed negotiations  

The hardest part about the strike, MacKenzie said, is knowing how much her teachers want to be back in the classroom. 

"We know that our teachers are really sad," MacKenzie said. "I've had teachers cry and say they just want to be in the classroom with us." 

Michael Kennedy, who is originally from Kensington, P.E.I., is a full-time faculty member at Sheridan College. He said OPSEU has been negotiating with the CEC since early this summer, with very little progress.

The first three weeks of the strike went by with almost no negotiation between the two organizations, he said. 

college strike

Roughly 500,000 college students across Ontario have been missing classes amid the strike involving 12,000 college workers represented by the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union, and the province's 24 colleges, which are represented by the College Employer Council. (Submitted by Michael Kennedy)

"The term is really in jeopardy now and we did not want them to lose their term," Kennedy said. "It's going to be a real scramble to piece it together from this point on." 

Kennedy said he has been picketing every day and has witnessed tremendous support from students.  

"My and my peers' concern has always been with the students," Kennedy said. "We want to see a quick end to this strike and to get back into the classroom with them as soon as possible." 

With files from Lauren Pelley and Julia Whelan