College strike: faculty vote slated for next week

The Ontario Labour Relations Board has scheduled a vote next week for college faculty who have been on strike since Oct. 16.

Vote will take place between Nov. 14-16

JP Hornick, left, and Warren "Smokey" Thomas, right, speak at a press conference Tuesday in Toronto. (CBC)

The Ontario Labour Relations Board has scheduled a vote next week for college faculty who have been on strike since Oct. 16.

A spokesperson for the College Employer Council (CEC), which represents the province's 24 colleges, told CBC Toronto the vote will take place between Nov. 14 and Nov. 16.

"We're trying to get a bargaining deal — we're continuing to do that — but we've reached the point where we're in the fourth week of the strike and we have to have some resolution for our students," said David Scott. "That's why we called for the faculty vote, and that's why we've asked the union to suspend its strike until the vote takes place."

The CEC asked Ontario's Labour Relations Board Monday to schedule the vote.

The news comes just hours after the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union, representing the 12,000 college workers, held a news conference. Warren "Smokey" Thomas, president of OPSEU, said the union believed a deal was close after negotiations continued over the weekend.

"Then Monday morning, without any notice to us, the government dropped the bombshell of saying they were going to ask the Ministry of Labour to conduct a vote, which they get to do once during the bargaining cycle," Thomas said to reporters at the Chelsea Hotel in downtown Toronto.  

"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."

Sonia Del Missier, chair of the colleges' bargaining team, said Monday the colleges 'don't understand' why OPSEU has not accepted the latest offer. (Radio-Canada)

At Tuesday's news conference, the union maintained it would advise members to vote no.

"I thought we were close to a deal," Thomas told reporters.

"I think their actions yesterday morning going to the Ministry of Labour and walking away from the table, it just pulled that curtain and really accentuates one of the major problems in the college system today: that is, a management team that is stuck in a bygone era ... They won't let go of even of a little bit of that righteous control they have," said Thomas.

The OPSEU president said the union is asking the colleges to return to the bargaining table while the Ministry of Labour organizes the vote.

The CEC, however, said it remains at the table.

"Colleges responded to the union this morning through the mediator and proposed a possible solution to end the
strike that has entered its fourth week," the council said in a statement.

"The colleges are not negotiating in the press. If OPSEU is sincere about getting 500,000 students back in the classroom, then OPSEU should be at the bargaining table rather than making press announcements."

One sticking point: academic freedom

JP Hornick, chair of the faculty bargaining team, said the issue of academic freedom was only one piece left to negotiate. That's the ability for faculty to make decisions in their classrooms on a day-to-day basis.

Hornick said late Monday, the faculty bargaining team provided a revised offer to the CEC, which that council rejected.

"If you had stayed at that table Sunday night or this morning, we would have a deal by now and students would be on their way back to their classrooms."

The colleges' bargaining team said Monday it has addressed the issue of academic freedom.

Voting will take place between 9 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14 and 10 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 16. The vote will be conducted by electronic ballot to ensure the maximum number of faculty can take part.

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.

Students call for refund

Meanwhile, dozens of Seneca College students protested on Newnham campus Tuesday calling for a tuition refund. 

"We're international students, so we pay much more than domestic students," said Yelena Stebaryuk. "And we're just living here and doing nothing."

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      Others said it's not only the wasted money that drove them to rally — it's the wasted time.

      "We've been away from college for almost a month," said Ehsan Hosein Khani. "I forgot everything about what I've learned so far. It's not fair for us."

      "We demand someone to teach us," said Gabriel Shifferaw. "We're the little guys here who need to have a voice."