Ontario college students call on premier to enact back-to-work legislation

Click to play video: 'Students call on Premier to enact back-to-work legislation' Students call on Premier to enact back-to-work legislation
12,000 unionized college workers are picketing at 24 community colleges including St. Lawrence and Loyalist. On Monday, a group of students rallied in downtown Kingston with a message of their own. Morganne Campbell reports – Oct 30, 2017

St. Lawrence College students say they’d rather be in class.

Instead, many are standing in the rain outside MPP Sophie Kiwala’s office calling on the government to play a more active role in ending the contract dispute between Ontario colleges and OPSEU.

“I think a push from the government would be really helpful and I think it’s about time that they force the teachers back or at least force both parties back to the table to continue negotiations,” explained Emily Miller, a fourth-year nursing student.

READ MORE: No new talks scheduled as Ontario colleges strike enters week 3

Miller and some 500,000 other students at the 24 community colleges across Ontario have been out of class for 15 days and they’re concerned about the impact the strike could have on their school years.

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“We could see ourselves having to go to school for extended months — other schools in Kingston are graduating on time. Like Queen’s, they will have first shot at the job market.”

The union representing picketing workers says it’s worried for students who have also expressed their concerns to striking staff.

“I’m so sympathetic to the students. We want to be back there in the classroom,” explained OPSEU Local 417 president Grant Currie.

READ MORE: St. Lawrence College staff hit picket lines on Kingston campus

This is the third strike in the college’s 50-year history. Heading into week three, the pressure is mounting among staff, management and students as no new negotiations are planned.

The union is fighting for “equal pay for equal work,” and 50-50 ratio between full- and part-time teachers. College management says the offer they put forward is more than reasonable even though it was never put to a vote among OPSEU members.

“The colleges have put forward an offer that is as good, if not better, than the agreements that have been signed in the past few months. It’s an offer that is fair and it’s an offer that we believe folks should look at and vote on,” explained St. Lawrence College president and CEO Glenn Vollebregt.

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But OPSEU isn’t biting.

“If they want us to vote on it, then they can ask the Ministry of Labour to have us vote on it and we’ll happily vote on it and turn it down,” said Currie.

With contract talks at a stalemate, the strike will be taken to the premier’s doorstep this week. Local OPSEU members plan to join their province-wide counterparts for a massive rally outside Queen’s Park on Wednesday.

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