Parties representing Ontario’s 24 public colleges and the 16,000 unionized staff who work for them have agreed to return to the negotiating table Thursday with strike action looming.
“Yesterday, the faculty bargaining team invited the College Employer Council to join us back at the table today and tomorrow with no preconditions, and they have agreed to meet on Thursday, March 17,” a tweet from the Ontario College Faculty, part of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), said.
It said both parties will try to negotiate a settlement.
The threat of strike action hangs over the eleventh-hour discussions. The union representing faculty staff at public colleges in Ontario has promised to take strike action by 12:01 a.m. Friday if demands are not met.
If “real progress is being made” on Thursday the strike deadline could be extended.
On Tuesday, Jill Dunlop, Ontario’s Minister of Colleges and Universities, begged the two sides to find a deal.
“I’ve heard from students and from parents who are very upset,” she said. “Students cannot afford a strike. They’re finally back in the classroom. That’s where they need to be, that’s where their best education is.”
An open letter from OPSEU addressed to Ontario’s college presidents asks the College Employer Council (CEC) to agree to binding interest arbitration. It said that if it did not, a strike would be triggered.
The CEC is the government-mandated bargaining unit that negotiates with unionized staff on behalf of colleges.
Negotiations have been ongoing since last September but broke down in the fall. The union representing staff said unmet demands include workload and short-term contracts.
The staff that could strike by Friday include professors, instructors, librarians and counsellors.
The College Student Alliance, a non-profit advocating for college students in Ontario, welcomed both sides returning to the bargaining table.
“Ontario’s college students have endured significant hardship throughout the pandemic already and both sides have a responsibility to provide stability to them,” the organization wrote in a tweet.
— With files from Global News’ Brittany Rosen