Faculty and staff from some of Ontario's 24 public colleges rallied at Humber College's north campus — where the school's management offices are located — on Wednesday morning ahead of a contentious contract vote next week.
The Local 562 chapter of the Ontario Public Service Employee's Union (OPSEU) encouraged members to attend the demonstration. Those who arrived in the early morning hours carried signs with messages like 'We Say No,' a reference to the union's intent to reject a contract offer put forward on Tuesday.
Demonstrators also briefly held up cars entering the school's parking lots, taking time to explain to individual drivers why they are picketing.
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Bob Bolf, president of the Humber Faculty Union, said members decided to hold the rally in protest of "the games that management is playing at the bargaining table.
"They have needlessly lengthened the strike while preventing student from getting back to classes," he told CBC Toronto.
The work action began on Oct. 16, after tense contract negotiations fell apart. Primary points of contention include the ratio of full-time to part-time faculty, as well as faculty input on course content, which some instructors say is unduly shaped by administrators rather than those teaching the material.
A glimmer of hope shone through over the weekend as both sides returned to the bargaining table to restart negotiations. Despite the seeming progress, on Monday morning the Ontario Labour Relations Board ordered a vote. The College Employer Council, which represents the colleges in the talks, also requested that faculty and staff return to work in the interim.
Union members said they were caught off-guard by the move and considered it to be in bad faith.
"We were close to an agreement and then management pulled away all of its concessions and forced a vote," Bolf said.
Both sides continue to maintain they've made significant concessions to the other. However striking faculty said that they believe the contract up for consideration is more or less the same offer that the union previously refused to put to a vote.
The Ontario Labour Relations Board scheduled the vote to run from November 14-16, with results not expected until days after that, when the strike will be nearing the end of its fifth week.
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During a news conference earlier this week, union representatives said the timing of the vote "virtually guarantees" that the some 500,000 students affected by the strike will lose their semesters.
Amir Allana, a second-year paramedic student at Humber College, said the back and forth between the sides — which has largely played out publicly in the media — has been "anxiety inducing."
"Our biggest concern at this point is eligibility for the once-in-a-year hiring process," said Allana, explaining that Ontario holds only a single annual hiring blitz for paramedics early in the new year.
Along with his classmates, Allana has continued to try to cover as much course material as possible in fears they could end up without a job for a year longer than they planned for.
"Learning this content is necessary to pass hiring exams that are going to take place in December and January, and those are independent of the college system," he said in an interview with Metro Morning.
"If things go on longer, it's harder to make up the content.