Ontario's college faculty start voting Tuesday on the latest offer from the College Employment Council, the bargaining unit representing the province's 24 public colleges.
The union representing the faculty is recommending that staff reject the offer. The vote was called by the colleges after talks broke down early in the day on Nov. 6. The two sides had spent the previous weekend at the bargaining table.
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"Their offer of settlement has serious concessions that were not negotiated on that weekend and are not sanctioned by the union," said Rebecca Ward, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union local that represents about 150 faculty at Confederation College in Thunder Bay and satellite campuses across northwestern Ontario.
"There was no agreement that was signed and agreed to by the union; the College Employment Council tabled an offer Monday morning that did not reflect negotiation that occurred over the weekend."
Jim Madder, the President of Confederation College, said management believes there is only one issue outstanding: that being the level of control instructors have over their classrooms.
"You know all the different elements that were there were actually agreed upon by the union and by management except for one, and that's academic freedom," said Madder. "There's a thorough discussion of what we want to put in there that reflects academic freedom. At least as far as I understand it."
Confederation College issued an open letter to faculty on Monday, the day before voting was slated to start.
"The inability to reach a negotiated settlement is why we have asked for a faculty vote," the letter stated. "We came to the decision that we could not postpone a resolution indefinitely — not for you and not for students. When the vote was ordered by the Ontario Labour Relations Board, students and faculty had been out of the classroom for over three weeks."
"We understand that this decision is contentious. We would have preferred you vote on an offer recommended by the union."
Ward argued that the offer, if accepted, will hurt faculty on the issues of precarious work and workload, and that staff will now be asked to compress the majority of a semester into a few weeks without provisions for overtime.
A notice to staff on OPSEU's website said that "there are many differences between [the College Employer Council's] offer and what faculty need and despite what [the college] council has suggested, academic freedom is far from the only issue in dispute."
"What has occurred here has not been bargaining in good faith," Ward said.
Madder said staff should take a good look at the colleges' offer; one, he said, that is good for faculty.
"I believe it's a good offer, now I think people need to actually read what's there and make your own best judgement as to how that ... fits for them as they move forward," he said. "I think it's solid."
Voting will take place online and over the phone and is scheduled to end Thursday. If the vote passes, students could be back in class as soon as Nov. 21.
Madder said he doesn't think it's likely that the provincial government will step in if the offer is voted down.