News Local

Faculty strike into 3rd week

(CP) - Negotiations are set to resume today in a college strike that has left 500,000 Ontario students out of class for more than two weeks.

About 12,000 college professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians went on strike Oct. 16.

There have been no talks since then, but Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews said Wednesday that both sides are returning to the table.

“This is an important step forward, but I’m going to continue to urge both parties to actually negotiate an agreement,” she said. “Students should be back in the classroom ... as quickly as possible.”

Georgian College has 11,000 full-time domestic students and 1,500 international students at its seven campuses, including Barrie and Orillia.

Matthews would not say why the mediator called both sides back to the table or if one of the parties’ positions had changed to break the current impasse.

“The mediator is hopeful that they can reach a resolution which is why they’re back at the table,” she said. “I’ll leave the bargaining to the table but I’m hopeful they’re going to be able to find common ground.

“I think they’re just ready to talk now. I have no new news.”

The colleges’ bargaining team said in a news release moments before Matthews’ announcement that they were calling on the mediator to bring both sides back to the table.

“This strike has gone on for too long,” Sonia Del Missier, the head of the bargaining team, said in a statement. “We will focus our efforts at the table and work very hard to reach a deal that ends the strike.”

Del Missier said she believes a settlement can be reached quickly and classes could resume early next week.

The Ontario Public Sector Employees Union, which represents the striking workers, said they are hopeful the colleges have changed some aspects of their position, since the mediator had said there wouldn’t be a return to the table unless one party’s position had changed.

“We want to hear what the council has to say and we’re ready to bargain if they’re ready to start addressing faculty issues,” said bargaining team chair JP Hornick.

“Realistically the ball is in their court at this point. We had moved our position several times over the course of bargaining.”

OPSEU Local 350 represents 278 full-time faculty and 299 partial load faculty at Georgian College's seven campuses. An additional 368 faculty members teach on a part-time basis and are not members of the faculty union. Numbers change every semester, however, especially non-full-time faculty.

The collective agreement for college faculty expired Sept. 30, 2017.

The union has called for the number of full-time faculty to match the number of faculty members on contract, but the colleges have said it would add more than $250 million in costs each year.

But Hornick said equally big issues are no cost items such as academic freedom.

The union had scheduled a rally for Thursday to call on the colleges to return to the bargaining table.

The colleges have put forward a four-year-agreement that offers a 7.75 per cent pay increase.

The Canadian Press