Striking Ontario college faculty rejected the latest contract offer by the colleges during a forced vote, the Ontario Labour Relations Board announced on Thursday morning.
The labour board on said that from Tuesday to Thursday, 95% of the 12,841 union members filled out a ballot online with 86% of them voting “no” in what the union has described as a “historic” rejection.
The labour board held the vote following a request by the College Employer Council after negotiations at the bargaining table fell apart for a second time on Nov 4.
The forced vote is a one-time option allowed under the collective bargaining act. Its results mean that the strike will continue for an indefinite amount of time.
It is the longest college strike the province has ever witnessed, with the academic CAAT section of the Ontario Public Sector Employees Council seeking more full-time staff and and a say in academic programing, among other items.
Premier Kathleen Wynne says she will meet with both the CEC and OPSEU later on Thursday afternoon “to get students back in the classroom immediately.”
The Ontario government has not ruled out back-to-work legislation to force faculty to return without the deal they were aiming for.
OPSEU immediately called for the colleges to return to the bargaining table in a statement released after the results.
“No one is surprised that college faculty rejected the Council’s forced offer. It was full of concessions and failed to address our concerns around fairness for faculty or education quality,” said JP Hornick, negotiating chair for OPSEU.
“Let’s get back to the bargaining table and complete these negotiations.”
OPSEU President Warren “Smokey” Thomas described the forced vote as a “bully move” by the colleges.
“At a time when we were only a few steps away from getting a deal, they overplayed their hand,” he said in a statement.
The lead negotiator on the college side Sonia Del Missier said the council will seek direction from a provincially appointed arbitrator for next steps.
“This is a terrible result for the 500,000 students who remain out of class,” Del Missier said in a press statement on Thursday.
“I completely sympathize with our students who have been caught in this strike for more than four weeks.”
OPSEU had encouraged faculty members to reject the offer so that a return to the bargaining table could occur and a better agreement agreed upon.
There has been no word from the CEC or OPSEU on a return at this time.
Hornick thanked students for their support of faculty and asked student leadership associations to call their college president’s and request they put pressure on the employer council to return to bargaining.
Hornick also thanked faculty rallying outside Ontario Labour Relations Board offices in downtown Toronto for their support.
The University of Guelph-Humber said that the ballot result does not change the current status of classes and that midterms will continue off-site as planned.
Vice Provost John Walsh sent an email to students shortly after 1:30 pm on Thursday saying that the first priority for administration is student success and that they “are working toward the completion of the term.
Walsh encourage students to monitor the Guelph-Humber updates page, where details regarding the academic calendar have changed.
The last day to withdraw from a fall course is now Nov 24 and any holiday plans made from Dec 22 to Jan 3 will “not interfere with make-up exams or instruction.”
IGNITE Student Life has shared a CBC News article on the vote results, but have posted no comment at this time.
Some 500,000 full and part-time students across the province have been kicked from the classroom during this nearly five week long strike.
The strike kicked off a month ago on Oct 16 after the colleges and the union representing faculty, librarians and counselors could not reach an agreement before a planned deadline.
There was one attempt to return to the bargaining table, but process fell through as the College Employer Council legally requested a forced vote.
The strike will continue in the coming days until an agreement is found or back-to-work legislation is enforced by the provincial government.
The student response at this time has been fairly mixed.
Child and Youth Services student at Humber College Paula Greenberg called the vote “historic”, explaining that it “sets a precedent that workers can take a stand against precarious work.”
Greenberg told the Post it was an important victory for faculty and students, as students will graduate into “an economy that doesn’t value us”.
“Someone had to take a stand and I’m glad it was our faculty.”
Wynne under pressure
Premier Kathleen Wynne came under fire from the opposition at Queen’s Park on Thursday.
Wynne did not deny that back-to-work legislation could be used if bargaining did not start up again.
“We are looking at all of our options, but I am hopeful that an agreement to return students to class immediately can be reached by the parties,” Wynne said.
During question period at parliament, New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath questioned the premiers plan to get students back to class.
“Surely the premier actually has a plan, as opposed to just a little discussion,” Horwath said.
“Surely she has a plan about how she is going to ensure that a fair deal is reached and support students through this process.”
The provincial New Democrats have made their support for both students and strike faculty clear, with Wynne’s Liberal Party being a strong advocate for the collective bargaining process.
“She knows or should know full well that the next step at this point is for us to bring together the parties and to give them the opportunity to come to an agreement,” Wynne responded.
What are the union demands?
According to a pamphlet made by two college librarians, there are five reasons faculty are on strike.
The first bullet point is the headline “we need more full-time faculty”, the top sticking point for a majority of union members the Post has questioned. The union says full-time faculty numbers are decreasing while the student population increases year-to-year.
Second on the pamphlet is that contract faculty members need job security.
Those on contract need to re-apply every semester to continue to hold a job, and a majority of college faculty are on this system.
Number three on the list is equal work deserving equal pay. Faculty that aren’t full time are not being paid for the time they spend preparing for courses, marking academic submissions and out-of-class support.
Humber Lakeshore student Paula Greenberg told the Post that many teachers in her Child and Youth Services program at Humber College worked in their field as well as teaching, as they were not employed full-time.
“Quality of life for my teachers is important because it effects my education,” Greenberg explained.
She said with part-time faculty they didn’t have enough time to properly “address questions, meet students outside of class and explain lectures”, causing both the teacher and the student stress.
The fourth pamphlet point is that academic decisions require faculty input.
Union local board executive Miles Magner called on a “senate or some way to craft academic work.”
OPSEU supporter Mohammed Ali has commented on that, saying that he had seen success at Ryerson where both faculty and students had input on their academic content.
The fifth reason for why Ontario college faculty are on strike is that the ratio between counselors and students need to be balanced for the sake of the students.
Strikers say the college administrations are now “moving to outsource” the work of counsellors, which OPSEU says gives “less accessibility to adequate and meaningful mental health coverage for students.”
More details to follow. Image 1 of picketing faculty at Humber College North/GH campus from the Toronto Star.