By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
Beginning Nov. 14, striking college faculty across the province are in the midst of voting on their employee’s offer, potentially ending a strike now entering its fifth week.
This past weekend, the Ontario Labour Relations Board set vote dates for Nov. 14 to 16 for members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) to decide whether they want to accept the offer from the College Employee Council (CEC).
The CEC asked the labour board to takes its offer directly to OPSEU members after talks broke down with union negotiators earlier this month.
More than 12,000 college professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians walked off the job on Oct. 16. Some 500,000 students at Ontario’s 24 public colleges have been out of the classroom since, making it the longest college faculty strike in the province’s history.
While students affected by the strike remain in educational limbo until the vote results are announced, some will receive a bit of relief to their wallets.
On Nov. 10, Minister of Adult Education and Skills Development Deb Matthews announced colleges will be required to create funds, used from savings earned from not paying striking faculty, to “support students who have experienced financial hardships as a result of the strike.”
“I will work with students and colleges starting immediately to develop the parameters of the fund. We need to work out the details together and we will do it quickly,” Matthews said in a media statement. “I have just spoken with student leadership from the College Student Alliance and have asked them for their advice and for feedback from their membership. I’m looking for the best ideas about how to make sure this reinvestment directly benefits students who have faced hardship.”
Nicole Zwiers, president of OPSEU Local 354 which represents faculty at Durham College, says the latest offer “includes a number of concessions” and she is confident union members will vote against it.
As reported earlier in The Oshawa Express, Zwiers, who also serves as vice-chair of the union negotiating team, says progress was being made before the CEC went the labour board.
“There was movement. We worked diligently to come up with a resolution, and we could have ultimately been back in the classroom,” she says.
Earlier this month, CEC bargaining chair Sonia Del Missier stated OPSEU representatives had “stonewalled” negotiations.
“We addressed all faculty priorities and the offer that is available for faculty right now – on the table – should have ended this strike,” Del Missier said at the time.
In order for the offer to be approved by OPSEU members, it must receive a yes vote of 50 per cent plus one vote. Results are expected to be announced by the OLRB on Thursday (Nov. 16).