Union president, Mohawk professor hopeful for resolution amid looming Ontario college strike

The president of OPSEU Local 240 and a professor at Mohawk College says she still has hope for a late resolution to avoid a walk out by staff at Ontario’s 24 public colleges on Friday.

Heather Giardine-Tuck told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton it’s up to the College Employer Council (CEC) to set a path towards binding interest arbitration, which would sit the two sides down in front of a neutral third party.

“That is how our next contract would be determined,” Giardine-Tuck said.

“So we do remain hopeful, but at this point it is unfortunate that we’ve landed here and our concern is for students.”

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The work action, delivered in a letter to the CEC on Monday, could put close to 1,000 Mohawk College faculty, including professors, instructors, librarians and counsellors, on strike as of 12:01 a.m. March 18.

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In all, some 16,000 faculty at 24 colleges in Ontario could be off the job Friday.

The walkout would come about a month after faculty across Ontario rejected a final offer from CEC on Feb. 17.

Giardine-Tuck says the key issues involve evaluation time per student, improved job protection for councillors and librarians,  stronger language around equity, diversity and inclusion as well as improvements to the quality of education in the system.

The council has assured college executives they are prepared to negotiate through the weekend assuming they can get the union back to the bargaining table.

In a recent statement, CEC CEO Graham Lloyd characterized the union’s offer as “unrealistic and unacceptable” and claims they have repeatedly not compromised.

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

For the thousands of Mohawk students, campuses are expected to remain open and scheduled events will continue should a strike emerge, according to president and CEO Ron McKerlie

“If you need to come to campus, please note that there may be some delays entering and leaving the campuses due to picket lines,” McKerlie told the student body in online update on Monday.

A job action, however, will suspend all full-time programs and apprenticeship training (virtual and in-person) and postpone exams, tests and assignments.

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Libraries, student services and athletics, in addition to co-ops and placements not requiring faculty supervision, will continue.

Giardine-Tuck insists the union doesn’t want to disrupt students especially since many have already had to make compromises amid the pandemic which cancelled a number of milestones including graduations.

“So we’re hoping pressure from our student groups will reach the ears of the 24 college presidents and get them to direct the CDC to either return to the bargaining table or agree to … arbitration,” said Giardine-Tuck.

Faculty at Mohawk and OPSEU have a rally and food drive for the Mohawk Student Association food bank set for Friday between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The local are asking everyone who attends to bring a non-perishable food item.

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