Ontario college union requests possible strike vote

A union representing faculty at Ontario colleges has requested a potential strike vote be held on the first day of the fall school term as talks head down to the wire.

A union representing faculty at Ontario colleges has requested a potential strike vote be held on the first day of the fall school term as talks between the two sides head down to the wire.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union said it had asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board to hold a strike vote on Sept. 6, though discussions with the colleges' bargaining team are ongoing.

In a release, the union said that it hopes the strike vote request will get the schools to "start negotiating more seriously."

"OPSEU is calling on this employer to wake up and see that their games and delays are unacceptable," OPSEU President Warren Thomas said in the release. "We stand with our members one hundred per cent, and will do everything in our power to ensure there is a swift resolution to these negotiations."

Don Sinclair, the Chief Executive Officer for the College Employer Council, which represents the colleges in the negotiations, said that a strike vote in this situation is typical of past rounds of bargaining but there is still a large divide in bargaining discussions.

"I think that both parties are at this present time quite a ways apart, particularly around the issues of money," Sinclair said.

He added that OPSEU had presented a number of proposals that would increase costs to the colleges.

"If we were to deliver the same programs tomorrow that we're doing today based on their proposals, it would be $140 million more to the college," he said.

The faculty has also proposed a 3.5 per cent wage increase over two years, which Sinclair said would add up to an additional $46 million, bringing the total costs to about $190 million.

"We have an offer on the table that's in line with the government's priorities of zero wage increases and no additional costs to support the delivery of our programs. So we're a bit of a ways apart," he said. "The colleges are part of the broader public sector and we have to align ourselves to put a pause in the compensation of costs in the next couple of years. And I think part of it is facing that economic reality."

The collective agreement with the union, representing 10,000 faculty and college staff, expires at the end of this month.

"The colleges are running out of time," Carolyn Gaunt, faculty bargaining team co-chair said. "They have had two and a half months to negotiate, and they still haven't addressed our key issues. What are they waiting for?"

Issues include workload, staffing

Sinclair said there is enough time to come to an agreement if both sides are committed to a resolution.

"We've got eight days of bargaining schedules and we'll be here working toward a settlement," he said.

Discussions also include issues surrounding academic freedom, the treatment of partial-load faculty, addressing the increased workload from online courses and other staffing requirements, which Sinclair said will also equate to more funding in contrast to what the faculty has said.

"They'll consider them other issues, but it all comes down to money because you have to fund them," he said. "They're saying it's not about money, and it's all about money."

Provincial conciliator Greg Long has been appointed to help push the talks forward and reach a settlement between both parties.

A "no board" report would have to be granted by the labour board followed by a 17-day period before a legal strike or lockout could occur.

Sinclair said that the report had not been granted as of yet, but that the College Employer Council would meet with the Ministry of Labour to schedule the vote in the near future, which he said is likely to go ahead.

"September 6th is the tentative date but it has to be confirmed by the government because they have to supervise the vote," Sinclair said.