Premier Wynne tables back-to-work legislation to end college strike but NDP block it
Premier Wynne announced Thursday she is tabling back-to-work legislation that would end the nearly five-week strike by college faculty after negotiations between the College Employer Council (CEC) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) failed.
Wynne had asked the colleges and the union representing striking faculty to return to the bargaining table Thursday after members voted to reject the latest contract offer following a two-day vote this week, but within several hours the two sides reached an impasse.
She asked the parties to resolve the issues, either through a negotiated agreement or by submitting to voluntary binding arbitration by 5 p.m. Thursday, which they were unable to do.
“That’s why we are immediately tabling legislation that would end the dispute and return Ontario college students to the classroom where they belong,” Wynne said in a statement. “Under the proposed legislation that we’re introducing today, all outstanding issues would be referred to binding mediation-arbitration.”
But the NDP blocked the attempt to table the bill after the normally scheduled time period for introducing legislation Thursday evening.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath said in a statement she would not support back-to-work legislation.
She said she wants students back in school Monday but only through a deal.
College faculty union leader hopes back-to-work legislation enough to get students back to class
The Liberals will now ask the Speaker to reconvene the legislature Friday — when it normally does not sit — so the legislation can be introduced again. If it is blocked once more, the Liberals said they intend to sit through the weekend.
The Ontario PCs said they would support the legislation, but leader Patrick Brown issued a statement condoning how long the strike has gone on.
“The fact that this has lasted until today, November 16, is unacceptable,” the statement said.
“My message to the premier is this: as her meeting with both sides failed to produce concrete results and a negotiated settlement, we will support back-to-work legislation to get students back in class on Monday. It is the right thing to do for students.”
OPSEU AND CEC RESPOND
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said Thursday night that he had hoped after the faculty rejected the offer that “real negotiations would ensue.”
“But in a joint meeting this afternoon with the Premier and Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews, 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.”
He said it was clear that the CEC refused to accept their bargaining approach had failed.
Thomas said if the legislation is introduced — which he said they would honour if passed — it should also include “measures to disband the College Employer Council altogether.”
“Council is a shadowy agency beyond the reach of freedom-of-information and salary disclosure laws, yet it is funded entirely by public dollars and students’ tuition,” he said. “It exists for no other reason but to enrich its directors, and it should be outlawed,” he said.
OPSEU squarely put the blame on the college council saying they wouldn’t budge during negotiations.
Thomas said he had a feeling legislation was coming after the meeting with Wynne.
“It was pretty inevitable — there’s 500,000 people out there swinging in the wind.”
JP Hornick, chair of the OPSEU college faculty bargaining team, said that members are looking for “fairness for the contract workers and shared decision making around academics — meaningful faculty input.”
“We’re looking for those things that already exist in any quality post-secondary school system outside of Ontario colleges,” she said.
The union said 95 per cent of its members voted on the offer and 86 per cent rejected it.
OPSEU leaders discuss what they’re looking for as a college strike has already reached several weeks in length.
The CEC said the offer included a 7.75 per cent salary increase over four years, improved benefits and measures to address concerns regarding part-time faculty, with language surrounding academic freedom remaining as the only major outstanding issue.
In a statement released Thursday, they said the OPSEU asked for a $5,000 striking bonus, which Hornick denied.
She said the union requested compensation for the last two weeks of the strike but did not give a number and did not request that it come out of the hardship fund the government ordered colleges to create.
The fund was ordered to be created by the colleges using savings from the strike to help students who may be experiencing financial hardship because of the labour dispute.
The strike, which involves 12,000 college professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians, began Oct. 15 and has left 500,000 full-time and part-time students out of class.
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CLASS-ACTION LAWSUIT FILED
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.
Under the proposed back-to-work legislation, the strike would end and all outstanding issues would be referred to binding mediation-arbitration.
—With files from The Canadian Press and David Shum
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