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Strike looms for 24 Ontario colleges after union delivers ultimatum


A union representing thousands of faculty at Ontario’s 24 public colleges has delivered an ultimatum to their employer, suggesting that they are prepared to walk off the job on Friday unless there is an agreement to end the labour dispute through arbitration.

The bargaining team for approximately 16,000 professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians sent an open letter to college presidents on Monday in which they urged them to agree to send all outstanding issues at the table to binding interest arbitration, which would allow a neutral third party to impose a compromise solution.

They said should the College Employer Council (CEC) not agree to binding interest arbitration, members will “have no choice” but to partake in a full strike as of 12:01 a.m. on March 18.

“What I can say is that every significant labor dispute or strike that I can think of in our division in in recent history has ended up in binding interest arbitration. Sometimes that requires a strike. This time we are willing to refer all outstanding issues to binding interest arbitration without a strike and if we end up with a strike that ends in binding interest arbitration, I would have to say that that is entirely on management,” Professor Jonathan Singer, who is a member of the bargaining committee, said during an interview with CP24 on Monday afternoon. “If they (the employer) genuinely believe that their positions are reasonable, then they should have the confidence to take it to binding interest arbitration.”

Faculty at Ontario colleges, who are represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, have been participating in a work-to-rule campaign since December.

In their letter, they say that they have tried to limit the impact on students but now believe that the colleges are “moving toward a lockout instead of negotiating a deal” after 62 per cent of members rejected a “final offer” on Feb. 17.

For its part, the College Employer Council has claimed in a post on its website that it is “not seeking anything from the union” and therefor can’t agree to enter into binding interest arbitration.

“The CEC is not prepared to agree to have an arbitrator ‘split the difference’ on key issues that colleges have already stated are unacceptable to begin with. In essence, there is nothing to split,” they said.

Workload issues the main sticking point

Talks between the bargaining committee and the CEC have been ongoing since July but have failed to lead to a new collective bargaining agreement.

Singer told CP24 that both sides have been on the same page on compensation and benefits due to provincial legislation which caps salary increases.

But he said that “workload issues” which have left professors and instructors with minimal time to prepare for classes have been a major sticking point, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic and the expansion of online learning has complicated course delivery.

He also said that the union is seeking “tangible improvements” to the job security of part-time faculty.

“These are not issues that we can necessarily kick the can down the road on. We've kicked workload down the road since 1985. At some point we do have to address it as these are pressing issues of vital importance to the 16,000 professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians at Ontario Colleges,” he said. Top Stories

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