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Colleges push for deal with faculty

Ontario’s colleges are hoping that striking faculty will halt their strike and immediately vote on the latest offer.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

The organization representing Ontario’s 24 public colleges is asking striking faculty to suspend their job action, now entering its fourth week, and directly vote on its latest offer.

On Nov. 6, the College Employee Council (CEC) asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board to submit its offer directly to OPSEU faculty members for consideration after claiming the union’s negotiation team “stonewalled” the bargaining process.

“We addressed all faculty priorities and the offer that is available for faculty right now – on the table – should have ended this strike,” CEC bargaining chair Sonia Del Missier states in a media release.

It is expected the Labour Relations Board will set a vote date within the next five to 10 days.

The CEC has also asked faculty to suspend their strike to allow students to return to classrooms until the vote date.

More than 12,000 professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians walked off the job Oct. 16. Approximately 500,000 students have been affected by the strike.

Nicole Zwiers, president of OPSEU Local 354, the chapter representing Durham College faculty, compared the CEC’s actions to “throwing a bomb” into the negotiations.

Zwiers criticized the council for taking the action now, four weeks into the strike, when she says the direct vote could have taken place since Sept. 16, a month before faculty walked off the job.

The union and CEC returned to the table on Nov. 1 and Zwiers, who is also vice-chair of the OPSEU negotiating team, says from her perspective, an agreement could have been ironed out if talks had continued.

“There was movement. We worked diligently to come up with a resolution, and we could have ultimately been back in the classroom,” she says.

In its media release, the CEC states its latest offer addresses the union’s priorities through “enhancing full-time employment opportunities for contract faculty, increasing pay, offering greater rights and job security for contract faculty and more academic freedom.”

However, Zwiers says faculty were asked to make several concessions, something OPSEU is not prepared to do, and she is confident union members will vote against the offer when given the chance.

“Our members did not go on strike for three weeks to accept concessions,” she says.

For Zwiers, the only way to reach a settlement is to get back to the negotiation table.

“We are really at a crossroad,” she says, adding that should union members vote down the CEC’s offer, “salvaging the semester would be very difficult.”

On Nov. 3, Durham College announced via a statement on its website that the winter break will continue as scheduled.

“To ensure that all students have the opportunity to complete their fall semester, semester completion plans are currently being considered.  Please note that the semester may be extended. The college will be officially closed for the holidays on Friday, Dec. 22 at 6 p.m. until Tuesday, Jan. 2 at 7 a.m.  During this time period, there will be no academic activities scheduled (i.e. classes, tests, exams, or assignments),” the statement reads.