Mohawk College students face strike threat

A strike could start as early as Sept. 15 if the Ontario Public Service Union goes ahead with a Sept. 10 strike vote.
Mohawk College instructors could strike as early as Sept. 15.

Ontario's colleges are warning a looming strike by faculty could disrupt the year for thousands of students, including those at Hamilton's Mohawk College.

The colleges say a strike could start as early as Sept. 15 if the Ontario Public Service Union goes ahead with a Sept. 10 strike vote and a majority of faculty vote in favour of giving the union a strike mandate.

Colleges' spokeswoman Sonia Del Missier says OPSEU won't accept a two-year wage freeze that preserves maximum salaries and asks for no concessions.

"A strike mandate will give the union the ability to trigger a province-wide strike with just five days' notice," Del Missier said.

The College Employer Council has asked the union to cancel its strike vote and focus its efforts at the bargaining table.

Geoff Ondercin-Bourne, president of the local union branch representing 600 Mohawk professors, instructors, librarians and counsellors, says his members don't want to strike.

"But it's been a tough process because the government has imposed a wage freeze on other teachers, so that could be coming down the pike for us, too."

"Everyone is really keeping their fingers crossed that we can hammer something out."

Ondercin-Bourne told CBC Hamilton there are three main issues at play for Mohawk instructors:

  • Academic freedom teachers — getting to choose their own teaching and evaluation methods
  • Increased workload from online courses
  • More rights for part-time and casual workers

Ondercin-Bourne has been teaching for 25 years, and has gone through three work stoppages.

"Each time it took three weeks and change for the government to order us back to work," he said.

Sean Coffey, a spokesperson for Mohawk College, told CBC Hamilton that "all we can say at this point is we're hopeful an agreement will be reached between college and faculty, so our teachers can be in classrooms doing what they do best."

Should faculty strike, it would be the second year in a row Ontario college students have had to deal with a work stoppage.

Last year, support staff went on strike in early September, disrupting classes across the province.

"We have our fingers crossed," said Andrew Hall, the President of the Mohawk Students Association. "Everything is still very much in the air."

Hall says he hasn't heard from many incoming students, but returning students are concerned they could lose their years if too much time is lost.

"But students are actually fairly understanding of the situation," he said. "They can see the big picture."

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With files from the Canadian Press