A strike by faculty would 'mess up everything,' George Brown College students say

George Brown College students say a strike deadline set by the union that represents faculty at Ontario colleges is not good news because job action right now would disrupt midterms.

Union that represents faculty at Ontario's colleges has set a strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. Monday

Students at George Brown College cross the street en masse in downtown Toronto. The union representing faculty at Ontario's 24 public colleges has set a strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. Monday. The students say job action next week would be bad timing. (CBC)

George Brown College students say a strike deadline set by the union that represents faculty at Ontario colleges is "bad timing" because job action next week would disrupt midterms.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents more than 12,000 employees at 24 public colleges, says it has set a deadline of 12:01 next Monday to try to bring its employer back to the bargaining table.

Collington Waterman, a human resources management student, says that's concerning for students and it means a strike could occur very soon.

"Right now, it kind of puts the students in a bad situation because midterms are coming up," he said Wednesday.

"If the strike happens, we are going to have a higher workload. We don't want that. We don't want the strike right now because it going to kind of mess up everything for us. I just think it's really bad timing." 
Collington Waterman, a student in human resources management at George Brown College, says a strike would 'mess up everything for us.' (CBC)

Amanat Gill and Emily Lacroix, tourism and hospitality management students, agreed.

"Honestly, it's ridiculous. Next week, midterms are starting," Gill said. "It's going to really interrupt the schedule. Especially for first-year students, I think, it's a big deal, because we're just getting into the college life, settling in and stuff, and then you have a huge interruption."

Lacroix, who works part-time, said a strike would be confusing for students.

 "It's kind of like scary to think about. If the strike happens, we're all going to be like, 'What do we do now?' It's midterms. We're supposed to be studying for the most intense part of the semester and we might not even have the rest of the semester. I think it will affect us a lot," she said. 

"I'm part-time now, and it's hard financially on me, I'm here to do school. So the fact that I might not even have school to come to, it's like, 'Wow, then why did I take time off? It doesn't make sense to me." 
Emily Lacroix, left, and Amanat Gill, students in tourism and hospitality management at George Brown College, say a strike would be hard especially on first year students who are just getting into college life. (CBC)

J.P. Hornick, chair of the union bargaining team, said the College Employer Council tabled what it called its final offer, the union set the strike deadline, then the council walked away from contract talks.

Hornick said the union wants the employer to address key issues.

"Our goal is to negotiate a settlement," Hornick, a labour studies professor at George Brown College in Toronto, said Thursday. "I want to be in the classroom, not on a picket line."

OPSEU says it is calling for: a greater voice for faculty members in academic decision-making; longer contracts for members on contract who currently have to reapply for their jobs every four months; and improved conversion of contract faculty to full-time positions.

Three out of four faculty members are on contract, she said. "Some of our people are working at three different colleges."

Employer says union rejected final offer

The council, which was not available for comment, said in an academic bargaining update issued on Wednesday that it did not walk away from the table. 

It said the union rejected its final offer and issued strike notice instead.

According to the update, the final offer includes a 7.75 per cent salary increase over four years, improved conversion of contract faculty to full-time positions, more faculty autonomy over personal workloads and enhanced benefits.

"The colleges' final offer is comparable to, or better than, offers accepted recently by other public-sector employees, such as teachers, public servants, and college support staff," it reads.

Sixty-eight per cent of OPSEU's membership, which includes professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians, voted in favour of a strike mandate last month. Their collective agreement ended Sept. 30.

With files from The Canadian Press