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'If I was them I'd say I won too': both sides claim success after college arbitration results announced

Five weeks after Ontario passed back-to-work legislation putting students and faculty back into college classrooms, the results of a binding mediation-arbitration process have been announced.

Faculty entered binding mediation-arbitration process after province passed back-to-work legislation

OPSEU bargaining team member Nicole Zwiers called the decisions made by an arbitrator a "vindication" for Ontario college faculty. (CBC)

Five weeks after Ontario passed back-to-work legislation putting students and faculty back into college classrooms, the results of a binding mediation-arbitration process have been revealed — and both the colleges and faculty are calling it a success for their side. 

The College Employer Council is "very pleased" with the arbitrator's award, said CEO Don Sinclair on Wednesday. 

Meanwhile, Nicole Zwiers, who served on the bargaining team for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU,) described the results as "vindication" of the faculty vision for the college system. 

Faculty began striking in October after they failed to reach an agreement with Ontario Colleges. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Premier Kathleen Wynne's government had pushed the back-to-work legislation through on Nov. 19 following a five-week strike by faculty that shut down colleges across the province. 

The legislation required that colleges and faculty enter into binding mediation-arbitration to settle the terms and conditions of their collective agreement, with both parties agreeing on William Kaplan as the sole arbitrator. 

'Historic' academic freedom language, says union

As they celebrated Kaplan's decisions, the colleges and the faculty highlighted different areas of the new collective agreement.  

Ontario Colleges pointed out that Kaplan had decided that faculty will receive a 7.75 per cent wage increase over four years — the original salary position offered by the College Employer Council before the strike began in October. 

They also drew attention to his decision to clear all grievances, complaints and claims filed by faculty since being forced to return to work.

Instead, faculty will receive a lump sum payment — $900 for full-time employees and $450 for part-time.  

Ontario's college strike is over after the provincial government passed back-to-work legislation during a rare weekend sitting. Hundreds of thousands of students are expected to return to class after the five-week strike by 12,000 college employees 2:23

Meanwhile, OPSEU celebrated new language added to the collective agreement around part-time staff and seniority — a key issue for them. 

"We've got improved staffing language for partial load faculty and full-time faculty. Significantly, we have improved language for seniority for our partial-load faculty members," said Zwiers.

She also celebrated the "historic" decision to include language that pertained to academic freedom. 

"For the first time in history we have meaningful academic freedom language in our collective agreement," she said. 

Colleges using 'spin' 

Ontario Colleges also applauded the academic freedom component of the agreement, saying that it was never opposed to its inclusion.

"It was always about the content," said Sinclair, who praised the academic freedom language for containing "accountability mechanisms" that mean that it won't be "one sole individual" deciding what is taught.  

College Employer Council CEO Don Sinclair argues that the decisions made by arbitrator William Kaplan are "consistent with the colleges' bargaining position."

Ontario Colleges had argued that faculty wanted to remove academic decision making from college leadership entirely, which OPSEU denied. 

OPSEU president Smokey Thomas argued that the colleges were putting their own "spin" on the results. 

"I guess if I was them I'd say I won too," he said. "We happen to disagree with what they're claiming on their press release." 

Task force to look at precarious work

During the strike, union officials had wanted a 50-50 ratio of full to part-time staff – a demand the College Employer Council has said would boost its $750-million annual payroll by $250-million. 

Sinclair said Wednesday it wasn't possible to commit to hiring full-time staff "because things are so fluid," echoing language used in a press release put out by his organization, which praised the arbitration results for allowing colleges "to be responsive to local economic needs in a timely and flexible way." 

As part of the new agreement, both parties have agreed to a province-wide task force to look at the issue of precarious work, along with things like student success and mental health. 

"This fight isn't over, we still have much to do," said Zwiers in reference to the task force.