With talks set to resume Thursday in a labour dispute that’s seen classes cancelled at 24 Ontario colleges for more than two weeks, London’s striking faculty are optimistic.
‘We just want to get back to work. Students want to get back to classes, and we’re hoping that everything is resolved so that we can get back to our jobs and the students can get back to getting the education that they need,” said Jeff Miles, a professor at Fanshawe College.
“We hope the council and the union are able to come to an an agreement that’s good for everyone. Good for students, good for faculty, good for the future, and good for the economy.”
A total of 12,000 college professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians have been walking the picket line since Oct. 15. Meanwhile, over half a million students have been out of class.
“It’s so much. Honestly, you don’t really want me to put you through how much I paid to be here, so it’s really a lot of sacrifice, and then I have to pay rent and all of that,” said Miracle Oshiogwemoh, a student at Fanshawe College. “I still tried to do some school stuff, but it’s not so easy when you know you can’t communicate with your lecturers.”
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Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews announced Wednesday both sides would be returning to the table, but wouldn’t say why the mediator called both sides back to the table or if one of the parties’ positions had changed to break the current impasse.
Moments before Matthews’ announcement, the colleges’ bargaining team said in a news release they were calling on the mediator to bring both sides back to the table.
The Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents the striking workers, says they’re hopeful the colleges have changed some aspects of their position, since the mediator had said there wouldn’t be a return to the table unless one party’s position had changed.
“We’ll see what they have to say. We don’t know what’s caused this invitation, but we’ve said we’re always willing to go back to the table and bargain, so we’ll see what happens,” said Daryl Bedford, president of OPSEU local 110, the chapter representing the 800 striking faculty at Fanshawe College.
“I think we’re cautiously optimistic because we’ve gone all the way from Oct. 15 to now without talks, and now we’re going to have some.”
If an agreement is reached, Miles said it’s going to be tough figuring out how to make up nearly three weeks of missed class.
“We’re not exactly sure how we’re going to reschedule things. Personally, I think I would just condense things a little bit. You have to figure out what content is most important. You might have to get rid of some stuff, you might have to double up on assignments, maybe a little bit of extra homework,” said Miles.
The union has called for the number of full-time faculty to match the number of faculty members on contract, but the colleges have said it would add more than $250 million in costs each year.
OPSEU also called for improvements in job security and no-cost items, such as having a stronger voice in academic decision-making.