Staff at Ontario public colleges could strike by Friday

OPSEU (Ontario Public Service Employees Union) hall in Kingston, Ontario on Tuesday, June 25, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

Staff at Ontario’s 24 public colleges are threatening to walk out by the end of the week if bargaining demands are not met.

An open letter from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) addressed to Ontario’s college presidents asks them to agree to voluntary binding arbitration. The letter says doing so will “save the school year” and avoid a strike. It asks the College Employer Council (CEC) to agree to the arbitration.

The staff that could strike by Friday include professors, instructors, librarians and counsellors.

The CEC represents public colleges including Algonquin College, Sheridan College and St. Lawrence College. It is the government-mandated bargaining unit that negotiates with unionized staff on behalf of colleges.

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If its demands are not met, OPSEU says 16,000 staff at Ontario colleges will go on strike at 12:01 a.m. this Friday, March 18. The potential escalation comes after faculty staff across Ontario rejected a final offer from CEC on Feb. 17, the open letter says.

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Binding interest arbitration involves both sides asking a neutral arbitrator to resolve a dispute. The arbitrator works to build a comprise from two contrasting proposals in order to avoid strike action.

“I firmly believe we can reach a deal at the bargaining table,” OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas said. “I’m convinced a deal is there and that we can avoid a messy strike that is not in anybody’s best interests.”

A statement from Graham Lloyd, CEO of CEC, said the union offer is “unrealistic and unacceptable”. He said the union has repeatedly said it will not compromise and has chosen to go on strike.

“We have consistently stated since July that the remaining union demands could never be accepted,” Loyd said.

“Insisting we take them to interest arbitration is a failure to respect our consistent assertion that these demands fall well outside any acceptable provision. We can never accept them.”

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OPSEU says the deadline for its offer is 12:01 a.m. on March 18. If it is not accepted by then, staff will take part in a full strike.

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