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Two sides try to woo striking Ontario community college teachers ahead of vote on final offer from Tuesday to Thursday

By Jessica Nyznik, The Peterborough Examiner

Faculty at Fleming College will start voting on their employer's contract offer Tuesday morning.

More than 250 full-time and partial load staff at Fleming will have nearly 48 hours to cast their vote on an offer their union has already rejected.

Online voting starts at Tuesday at 8 a.m. and finishes at Thursday at 10 a.m.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) represents 12,000 faculty members at Ontario's 24 community colleges.

They've been in intermittent negotiations with the College Employer Council (CEC) - which bargains on behalf of the colleges - since July.

When an agreement couldn't be met, OPSEU went on strike Oct. 16.

On Nov. 2, the two parties returned to the table, hashing it out for five days before the CEC asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board to step in to have the faculty vote on a final offer.

The labour board is now asking faculty to take matters into their own hands through an electronic vote.

Sonia Del Missier, the chairwoman of the colleges' bargaining team, stated in an update Monday that faculty still seem to have a lot of questions about the offer.

The vote is meant to clear all that up, with information about the offer and what will happen if they vote for or against it, Del Missier wrote.

"Faculty want to review objective information and make their decision based on facts," she stated.

OPSEU has been fighting for more control over academic decision-making, more stability for partial-load faculty and an even ratio of full-time to contract faculty.

Liz Mathewson, president of Local 352, which represents Fleming faculty, said she thinks faculty will stand behind the union's decision to reject the offer.

"My gut feeling is that, from the line and from other colleges, it's going to be a no vote. We're not prepared to have spent five weeks out on the line to accept (that offer)," Mathewson said.

If the majority vote against the offer, Mathewson said it's back to the table with a mediator.

"I'm hoping that if we have a strong no vote that they will get back to the table and work as hard as they did two weekends ago and get a deal," Mathewson said.

The CEC held a "town hall" webcast on Monday to answer questions about the final offer ahead of the vote, then announced a new website to counter "misinformation" from the union. The union held a similar phone-in town hall on Thursday.

The strike is affecting about 500,000 full-time and part-time students across Ontario.

Job security for the "partial-load" instructors who teach from seven to 12 hours a week has been a major issue, along with the union's request to increase the number of full-time professors.

That appeared to be partly settled when both sides agreed to the creation of a provincial task force, facilitated by the ministry responsible for post-secondary education, to study staffing ratios and what funding would be needed to "support the delivery of quality education and training." Management had said the union's proposal of a 50-50 split between part-time and full-time professors was too expensive.

"Academic freedom" remains a key unresolved issue. The union says faculty are faced with administrators who overturn failing marks given by professors when students complain and change course content to save money. They are seeking the type of academic control enjoyed by many university professors.

The colleges say faculty have a central voice in academic decision, but other "stakeholders" must also be consulted, including industry partners.

In the meantime, as Fleming faculty continue to walk the picket line, they're doing what they can to give back to the students.

Two weeks ago, they held a food drive, gathering a "mountain of food" for Fleming's student food bank, Mathewson said.

On Wednesday, they're holding a winter wear drive for international students and community members in need.

Although many international students tend to have a winter coat, they're not fully prepared for a Canadian winter, Mathewson said.

Faculty are asking for mitts, gloves, hats, scarves and warm socks. Donations can be made to faculty on the picket lines at any Fleming College entrance in Peterborough, Haliburton and Lindsay.

The items will be dispersed between international students and the Brock Mission.

-- with files from Jacquie Miller, Postmedia Network

JNyznik@postmedia.com


Previous Ontario community college faculty strikes

  • When: 1984

Length of strike: 24 days

Issues: Workload

How it was settled: The Ontario government passed back-to-work legislation; an arbitrator was appointed to look at workloads

  • When: 1989

Length of strike: 28 days

Issues : Salaries; accumulated sick leave provisions; job security

How it ended: Both sides put issues to mediation and arbitration after the government threatened back-to-work legislati

  • When: 2006

Length of strike: 18 days

Issues: Workload, salaries, academic freedom, job security, benefits

How it ended: Both sides agreed to an arbitrated settlement