The union representing striking Ontario college faculty and their employers met with the Ontario premier Thursday afternoon after members voted to reject the latest contract offer following a two-day vote this week.
Negotiations resumed Thursday afternoon at the request of Premier Kathleen Wynne, the union representing striking faculty said.
“The premier was very instructive and very helpful,” Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said after a meeting with Wynne and the advanced education minister.
“They’ve actually had rooms arranged for the parties to attempt to negotiate an agreement and a mediator on-site ready to go and the teams are just getting ready to go.”
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union said 95 per cent of its members voted on the offer and 86 per cent rejected it.
“It’s a resounding message to College Employer Council (CEC) that they actually need to be bargaining on faculty’s terms, that they address these key issues of equality and fairness so that we can all get back into our classrooms and work with our students,” JP Hornick, chair of the faculty bargaining team, told reporters during a press conference in Toronto Thursday morning.
The results were revealed on Thursday after the CEC, which bargains on behalf of the colleges, tabled their final offer last week.
“Ontario college faculty have exercised their democratic right and by rejecting the offer have chosen to continue to strike,” Sonia Del Missier, chair of the colleges’ bargaining team, said in a media release.
“This is a terrible result for the 500,000 students who remain out of class. I completely sympathize with our students who have been caught in this strike for more than four weeks. This strike has gone on for too long – and we still need to resolve it and get our students and faculty back in class.”
If the deal was accepted, students and staff would have been back in class as soon as next Tuesday.
The faculty bargaining team said a settlement is within reach, but not at the cost of maintaining precarious work for its members, diminishing equal pay for equal work and compromising decision-making powers in the classrooms.
“We believe a settlement is there and we know now that it’s on faculty’s terms,” Hornick said.
“It has never been our intention to disadvantage the students and indeed, the students have shown a deep understanding of why their faculty are on the lines and have shown incredible solidarity.”
VIDEO: Colleges made ‘every mistake imaginable’ in collective bargaining process
Del Missier said the colleges bargaining team will be in touch with the provincially appointed mediator to seek advice on how to proceed.
Following the results of the vote, Wynne said she’d meet with college and union representatives to discuss how to “resolve this situation immediately and get students back to class where they belong.”
“Students have been in the middle of this strike for too long and it’s not fair,” she wrote in a statement. “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.”
Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews the government is looking at a “range of options” to get students back into the classroom. She also had sharp words for both the colleges and the union and how they’ve allowed the strike to drag on.
“I would say that both parties share the failure, and it is a failure,” she said. “Make no mistake about it. Both parties need to recognize that there approach to this date has not resulted in any kind of success. They have to focus on students.”
Matthews also said that the semester can be salvaged.
“We are approaching the time where we will start to see people with lost semesters but we are not there yet,” she said. “We need to get them back immediately so that the semester can be saved.”
The provincial government has ordered the colleges to create a fund – using savings from the strike – to help students who may be experiencing financial hardship because of the labour dispute. Advanced Education Matthews has estimated Ontario’s 24 colleges have saved about $5 million so far.
The strike, which involves 12,000 college professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians, began Oct. 15 and has left some 500,000 students out of class.
Talks between the colleges and the union broke down on Nov. 4 prompting a request for the final offer vote.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) had recommended its members reject the offer.
A proposed class-action lawsuit over the ongoing college strike has been launched on behalf of students affected by the dispute.
The notice of action alleges the colleges breached contracts with students by failing to provide vocational training and a full term of classes.
It seeks full refunds for students who choose not to continue with their programs and refunds “equivalent to the value of the lost instruction” for students who do want to continue.
–With files from The Canadian Press