OPSEU calls offer from colleges ‘mean-spirited,’ urges striking faculty to reject it
Joshua Freeman, CP24.com
Published Tuesday, November 7, 2017 11:43AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 7, 2017 5:35PM EST
The union representing striking Ontario college faculty said Tuesday that they will not support an offer that the colleges plan on taking directly to faculty members.
"We will work to defeat that deal," Ontario Public Service Employees Union President Warren "Smokey" Thomas told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.
The statement comes a day after the college bargaining team announced that they had addressed all the demands of the faculty and didn’t understand why the union would not agree to their latest offer.
The college team said they would take their offer directly to faculty members in a vote expected to be held by electronic ballot from 9 a.m. on Nov. 14 until 10 a.m. on Nov. 16 and called on the union to suspend the strike until then.
For their part, union bargaining team members expressed surprise at the move and said they had believed that they were close to reaching a deal, with the final sticking point being language around academic freedom.
Responding further on Tuesday, OPSEU said they attempted to go back the colleges Monday night to work out a compromise, but the proposed deal was rejected.
“Our team modified many of the demands and met the employer more than halfway,” Thomas said, adding that they thought there was little more to do than “cross some T’s and dot some I’s.”
“We’re at a bit of a loss to explain why they’ve gone to the extraordinary step of going to the Ministry of Labour and asking for a vote,” Thomas said.
He said the faculty will not suspend the strike and urged the colleges to resume bargaining to reach a deal so that the vote they are planning can be turned into a ratification vote for a deal that can be accepted.
Thomas called the college team’s effort to force a vote “mean-spirited” and accused the college administrators of being “out of touch with the times.”
He said that if a second vote is required, it would push the strike into December, threatening the entire semester.
In a short statement, the college bargaining team said that they reached out to the union Tuesday morning through a mediator to propose a possible solution. They did not release any details about the proposal, saying they “are not negotiating in the press.”
“We won’t be providing specific comments about the proposed solution but need OPSEU at the table to get a deal and end the strike,” the statement read. “Council remains at the table to end the strike, but we can’t wait and are proceeding with plans to hold a faculty vote if bargaining is not successful.”
Province not getting involved for now
Commenting on the dispute Tuesday, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development Deb Matthews said only that the province wants to see students return to the classroom quickly.
“I know students are feeling the effects of this strike deeply, and I share their concern. However, I am unable to comment further on the process of the OLRB,” Matthews said in the statement.
She said the government wants “to see students back in the classroom as quickly as possible to continue their education.”
The government has not floated the idea of introducing back-to-work legislation so far.
Speaking with reporters, Premier Kathleen Wynne struck a similar tone.
“I’m not going to pre-empt a vote that needs to take into account the position of all of the members,” she said. “We’re going to let that process unfold. My concern is to get the students back to class. I don’t want to see any students lose their semester. My hope is the vote will take place quickly and we’ll be able to take the next steps to get kids back into school.”
Faculty members at Ontario’s 24 colleges have been on strike since Oct. 16, leaving 500,000 students out of the classroom. Students have expressed concern that they won’t be able to complete the semester because of the strike and thousands have signed an online petition calling for a tuition refund.