Province-wide professor strike affects 12,000 students in the northeast

Some 12,000 students across northeastern Ontario are not in class today due to a province-wide strike by college professors.

Classes cancelled as 776 professors on strike at Cambrian, Boreal, Sault, Canadore and Northern colleges

Some 12,000 students across northeastern Ontario are not in class today due to a province-wide strike by college professors.

A strike began at 12:01 Monday after talks broke off between the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, representing 12,000 college faculty, and the College Employer Council, representing 24 colleges.

All classes are cancelled at Cambrian College, College Boreal, Sault College, Northern College and Canadore College, but the campuses remain open during the strike. A total of 776 faculty are on the picket lines across northeastern Ontario.

The union tabled a final offer Sunday afternoon, which included a plan to increase the number of full-time faculty to match contract professors, but it was rejected.

"Unfortunately, Council refused to agree on even the no-cost items, such as longer contracts for contract faculty and academic freedom," said J.P. Hornick, head of the OPSEU bargaining team. "This leaves us with no choice but to withdraw our services until such time as our employer is ready to negotiate seriously."

The colleges made their final offer last week and their chief negotiator Sonia Del Missier, recently retired vice-president of Cambrian College in Sudbury, called on the union to put that proposal to a general membership vote.

"This strike is completely unnecessary and unfair to hundreds of thousands of students. We should have had a deal based on our final offer. It is comparable to, or better than, recent public‐sector settlements with teachers, college support staff, hospital professionals, and Ontario public servants – most of which were negotiated by OPSEU," said Del Missier. 

Nina Naumenko, the president of the faculty union at Cambrian College in Sudbury, says the main issue is getting the hundreds of part-time teachers, who are not on strike, converted into full-time professors.

"Precarious workers with a lot of education are going into the classroom and getting paid poorly, yet we expect them to teach the next generation of people heading out to the workforce," she said. "It's kind of scary."

OPSEU says that only 19 per cent of college profesors in Ontario are full-time. Cambrian College president Bill Best says that number at his campus is much higher at 38 per cent.

"The number one issue for us is to have a resolution to the labour disruption, have an affordable resolution and maintain the flexibility to provide quality education," he said.

The last strike by college professors lasted for three weeks in March 2006, but no Ontario college student has ever lost a semester or a full school year to a labour disruption.