Student union presidents from eight schools have called on Queen’s Park to force college and union representatives to get back to the bargaining table to end a labour strike that has cancelled classes at 24 public colleges and one university since Oct 16. 

The strike launched last Monday when the College Employer’s Union and Ontario Public Sector Employees Union could not come to a deal before the deadline at 12:01 am.

In a letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne and several Members of Provincial Parliament, the student leaders request that Ontario get the two sides to the bargaining table to end the dispute that has affected some 500,000 full- and part-time students across the province.

“We shouldn’t be a bargaining chip in this,” Fanshawe College student president Marganna Sampson said on Friday quoted by CBC News.

Sampson said those signing the letter are not taking sides in the strike but want both parties to find a solution to the problem.

“We’re not here to criticize or judge r to overstep in anyway, we are just representing our students and we want what’s best for them in the long run,” she said.

Ignite’s neutrality questioned

Student leadership from Humber, which also represents Guelph-Humber under Ignite, as well as leaders at Seneca, St. Clair, Mohawk, Niagara, Sheridan, Confederation and Fanshawe college’s have signed the letter.

However, many students have given their full support to the teachers walking the picket lines, contrasting their own student presidents’ claimed neutrality.

In the comment section of the official Ignite response to the strike posted on Facebook, Humber Lakeshore student Paula Greenberg asked this: “Does IGNITE have any plans to show solidarity for the faculty? Other institutions’ students are having rallies to support their striking faculty.”

Ignite President Maja Jocson responded saying that Ignite was holding a “neutral position for this issue” as they understand the views of both parties.

Jocson posted that the student union was “committed to support our students and ensure that students voice is heard during this time.”
Following up with Greenberg, the Post asked whether the effort by Jocson and other student executives to get OPSEU and the College Employers Council is a valuable cause.
“I do think having the government involved to get them back to the bargaining table is good, but I do worry that colleges still will not meet the demands of the union,” the Childcare and Family Services student said in response.
Tyler Shipley, a teacher at Humber College now on strike, was surprised by the Ignite statement. He emphasized that all parties, including the staff, want the strike to end.
“But the statement, with all that emphasis on ‘neutrality’, can be easily used by the government to justify back-to-work legislation,” he told the Post.
Shipley said forcing the strike to end would be a “disaster” for the faculty. The intervention that Ignite President Maja Jocson and other school leaders call for is “is totally in favour of the employer.”
“So, although I really, really understand students’ impatience to get back to class, and I share it, I think the whole point is that we want to go back under better conditions, not worse conditions.”
The Post reached out via email to Jocson but have not received a response at this time.
Several student rallies have been held in support of striking faculty, which include professors, librarians and counsellors.
The strike, at this point, sees no sign of ending.
A strike rally for all college picketers in Toronto is being on Wednesday in front of Deb Matthews’ office, the provincial minister in charge of the post-secondary portfolio.

More details to follow. Image of Queen’s Park from the Toronto Star. Correction: Shipley was not “disappointed”, but “surprised”.

Written by Eli Ridder

Eli Ridder is a freelance journalist. He founded The Avro Post in October 2017. He writes for Breaking911 and Guelph Politico, among others. Feel free to connect at ELIRIDDER@ICLOUD.COM or at ELIRIDDER.CA

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