(WINDSOR, ON) – After striking faculty members at Ontario’s 24 community colleges, including St Clair College in Windsor and Chatham, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union is calling on premier Kathleen Wynne to dissolve the College Employer Council. In response, the Council says the union is demanding a $5,000 strike bonus for each striking member.
The CEC, a unit of the Ontario government, is the bargaining arm for the colleges and is, says the union, a private club.
“Today, after college faculty overwhelmingly rejected Council’s latest contract offer, we hoped real negotiations would ensue,” said JP Hornick, the chair of the OPSEU college faculty bargaining team.
Apparently that hasn’t happened.
Hornick says that after the vote results were released, she was involved in a joint meeting with Wynne, Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews, and the Council. At the meeting, reported Hornick, “it became clear that, of the three parties in the room, only two were concerned with saving the semester for hundreds of thousands of students. One of those parties, the College Employer Council, refused to accept that their approach to bargaining had failed, and refused to do anything to get our students back to class.”
Hornick says the Council would not remove the, “poison pills” in its offer and made no move toward a settlement, even when faculty offered to send a key item, academic freedom, to arbitration. Commenting on a government move to introduce back-to-work legislation, OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas laid the blame for it at the CEC’s door.
“When our team made a last-ditch effort to get students back in class on Monday, the colleges dug in even further,” he said. Thomas was stern saying if there was going, “to be legislation, it should include measures to disband the College Employer Council altogether. Council is a private club that is accountable to no one.”
The Council has not responded to Thomas and his union’s call. Instead it issued a press release revealing that the faculty’s union is asking for a return to work signing bonus.
The CEC alleges it would be funded by a student hardship fund that the government was setting up to use the savings from the strike to help students in financial difficulties from the work stoppage. The CEC, in a statement, said OPSEU tabled new demands for a $5,000 return to work signing bonus for each striking faculty member, while refusing to agree to resolve the strike through arbitration.
“OPSEU’s actions at the table moved us further away from a settlement,” said Sonia Del Missier, the chair of the CEC bargaining team. She is firm in her belief that bargaining, “should have been focused on getting students back to class, but OPSEU chose the path of signing bonuses for faculty and a dismissal of arbitration.”
Del Missier explained that, in her view, OPSEU’s new demand for a $5,000 return to work bonus for each striking faculty member would be diverted away from the student hardship fund that Matthews announced last week.
The colleges proposed that students return to classes immediately and all outstanding issues be sent to arbitration. The union refused to agree and instead demanded that the colleges accept the $5,000 payment to faculty.
Matthews had suggested using a government task force on the future of Ontario colleges to help deal with outstanding issues and proposed sending an outstanding item of academic freedom to the force but, said the CEC, “again OPSEU refused.”
The CEC said it is in support of the government introducing back to work legislation as soon as possible.