About 150 faculty at Thunder Bay's Confederation College will be back at work on Monday after the province forced the end of a lengthy strike by faculty at Ontario's public colleges by passing back-to-work legislation on Sunday.

All classes will resume on Tuesday, Nov. 21, Confederation College said.

The faculty at the colleges — all represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) — had been on strike since Oct. 16.

Confederation president Jim Madder noted that the strike had been a stressful one for all sides.

"When we put everybody back together, I think that we just have to be patient with each other," he said. "I think the ultimate thing that we do is focus on the learning of our students; we focus on that, we'll get through it."

"I do want to compliment the professionalism of everyone involved with the strike itself, from all sides of the issue," Madder said, adding that he looks "forward to seeing people come back in classrooms, and I know everyone's going to be happier as we get towards the middle and end of this week, when we're supporting learning." 

Into arbitration

Rebecca Ward, president of OPSEU Local 732, which represents the Confederation faculty, said faculty will return under the terms of their previous collective agreement, which expired in September.

The colleges and union will now enter an arbitration process to come up with a new agreement.

"This is not over for us," Ward said. "We knew legislation could happen at any point, because it had happened in the past, but felt very strongly that even if it did occur, what an arbitrator would decide upon would be far better than what the employer was trying to impose upon us."

Faculty rejected the College Employment Council's latest offer last week, with 86 per cent voting against it.

"This isn't the best outcome," Ward said. "The best outcome would have been to have been to have been faced with an employer that was actually willing to negotiate, where a deal could have been struck that met the needs of both sides of this table through the collective bargaining process, but, quite honestly, that wasn't going to happen. We had no one to negotiate with."

Ward said faculty are returning to classrooms with "mixed feelings," and a "great concern for our students."

She also said she hopes the faculty's return to work will be respected by the colleges "in that there will be some return-to-work protections in place. They currently are not in place, but we have hope that our employer will see the need for that given what has happened here in the last five weeks, and damage that has occurred to labour relations here in the college system."

New semester schedule

Confederation College said it will have counselling and other supports in place to help students and employees transition back into the classroom. Further information for students — such as rescheduled dates for assignments, tests/exams, co-ops and work placements — will be shared during the week.

Madder said the strike's length means the fall semester will finish later than usual.

Under the new schedule, the Christmas break will run from December 23, 2017 to January 3, 2018, and the fall semester will finish on January 23.

The winter semester will begin January 29, and end by May 11.

Madder said reimbursement is possible for students who have to miss or change flights due to the new schedule; they're asked to speak with the college about any such issues.

March break will take place as planned, from March 12 to 16, Madder said.

"That was at the request of our student union," he said. "I'm sure everyone will enjoy the time."