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No end in sight for Ontario students as striking faculty reject colleges' offer

Pressure comes as 12,000 instructors are in the midst of two days of voting on an offer that could end job action.

The strike has forced hundreds of thousands of students out of class since Oct. 16. Frustrated at missing so much class time — and worried about losing the semester, or the costs they’ll incur should the school year be extended to make up lost time — students have held a number of protests.

Bernard Weil / Torstar News Service Order this photo

The strike has forced hundreds of thousands of students out of class since Oct. 16. Frustrated at missing so much class time — and worried about losing the semester, or the costs they’ll incur should the school year be extended to make up lost time — students have held a number of protests.

Striking faculty have rejected an offer from Ontario’s colleges, meaning their job action — the longest in their history — continues.

News of the vote result, , with 86 per cent of faculty rejecting the offer, prompted Premier Kathleen Wynne to say she’ll immediately meet with both sides.

“Students have been in the middle of this strike for too long and it’s not fair,” she said in a statement, adding that on Thursday afternoon, “I will be meeting representatives of the College Employer Council and OPSEU to discuss how we can resolve this situation immediately and get students back to class where they belong.

“We are looking at all of our options, but I am hopeful that an agreement to return students to class immediately can be reached by the parties.”

Turnout among the 12,000 full-time and partial-load instructors — who have been off the job for almost five weeks — was said to be extremely high, with 10,477 voting no and 1,663 in favour.

Voting, conducted online and by phone, began 9 a.m. Tuesday and ended at 10 a.m. on Thursday. Results were released soon after.

Sonia Del Missier, who chairs the colleges’ bargaining team, called it a “terrible result.”

“Ontario college faculty have exercised their democratic right and by rejecting the offer have chosen to continue to strike,” she said in a statement.

“This is a terrible result for the 500,000 students who remain out of class. I completely sympathize with our students who have been caught in this strike for more than four weeks. This strike has gone on for too long — and we still need to resolve it and get our students and faculty back in class.

“The college bargaining team will be in touch with the provincially appointed mediator to seek his direction to the parties.”

Warren “Smokey” Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, called the vote result and 95 per cent turnout a “historic moment” and urged the colleges to return to the bargaining table.

“It’s not over yet but we hope it will be over soon,” he told a news conference in downtown Toronto shortly after the tally was released. “This truly is a huge victory for working people.”

He and chief faculty negotiator J.P. Hornick blamed the colleges for drawing out the strike.

Hornick called on a return to bargaining immediately.

“There is still an opportunity to save this semester, absolutely,” she said. “But we need to get on this today.”

On Wednesday, post-secondary Minister Deb Matthews said that the government did not want to interfere with the process, however both she and Wynne remained “very concerned about the impact on students, and every day that the strike goes on means that more students are losing on their education.”

She has said the government has several options, including back-to-work legislation.

The strike has forced hundreds of thousands of students out of class since Oct. 16. Frustrated at missing so much class time — and worried about losing the semester, or the costs they’ll incur should the school year be extended to make up lost time — students have held a number of protests, and a group of 14 began a class-action lawsuit seeking tuition and fee refunds.

The student association at Ottawa’s Algonquin College took the unusual step of spending $20,000 on radio and video ads urging their teachers to vote in favour of the final offer from the College Employer Council.

Forced votes require a 50-per-cent plus one margin for the offer to be approved.

The offer faculty voted on included provisions to set up a provincial task force looking at the issue of full-time staffing ratios as well as the growing use of precarious, contract positions at colleges, considered one of the union’s key issue.

Faculty were also seeking academic freedom, which one official from OPSEU called the “core — it is the crux — around our issue of quality education.” The colleges, however, had accused the union of wanting “academic control.”

Partial-load instructors teach anywhere from seven to a maximum 12 hours each week.

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