Negotiations break down as college strike enters 4th week

Ontario's colleges have called for striking faculty to vote on a final contract offer, after talks to end the four-week labour disruption broke down today.

Colleges call for striking faculty to vote on final contract offer

Students at London's Fanshawe College and at 23 other Ontario colleges have been shut out of classrooms by a strike that began Oct. 16. Talks broke down between both sides on Monday. (Kate Dubinski/ CBC News)

Ontario's colleges have called for striking faculty to vote on a final contract offer, after talks to end the weeks-long labour disruption broke down today.

"We made significant moves to address all of their issues," said Sonia Del Missier, chair of the colleges' bargaining team, on Monday. "That offer should have been accepted."

"Quite honestly, we don't understand."

The College Employer Council, which represents the province's 24 colleges, said it has asked Ontario's Labour Relations Board to schedule the vote.

It has also called on the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union, representing the 12,000 college workers, to suspend the strike in the five to 10 days it will take to organize the vote.

OPSEU, however, said there were no plans to suspend the labour disruption.

"We'll advise our members to vote no, because there are things in there, should they be accepted, will cause long-lasting damage," said ​Darryl Bedford, president of OPSEU Local 110 representing faculty at Fanshawe College in London. "It's not an offer we can recommend."

Academic freedom the main sticking point

The faculty bargaining team told CBC Toronto academic freedom was the only item left on the table to discuss. That's the ability for faculty to make decisions in their classrooms on a day-to-day basis.

"Rather than finish those negotiations, council has dropped a bomb in the process," said JP Hornick, chair of the faculty bargaining team. "We are still here at the table."

"We are ready to finish this bargaining quickly. Instead, this could take up to two weeks for them to get this vote scheduled."

The colleges' bargaining team, however, maintains it has addressed the issue of academic freedom.

"We've got language in the collective agreement through the ways of a letter of understanding," Del Missier said.

The government has also agreed to establish a task force on the future of Ontario colleges that will look at various issues including the staffing model and the issue of precarious work, a key union concern, she said.

Del Missier said Monday said the colleges "don't understand" why OPSEU has not accepted the latest offer. (Radio-Canada)

The labour board will determine the date of the vote but the council has asked that balloting be held on all college campuses to ensure the largest number of faculty possible can participate.

A vote of 50 per cent plus one is all that is required to accept the deal and end the strike.

The strike, affecting 500,000 students at 24 public colleges across the province, began Oct. 16. The week of Oct. 23 was a reading week for 11 colleges.

After more than two weeks without talks, both sides returned to the bargaining table on Nov. 2.

With files from Andrew Lupton and The Canadian Press