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OPSEU turns down 'final' offer

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) has issued a strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. next Monday, which could affect classes at Barrie's Georgian College. MARK WANZEL photo.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) has issued a strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. next Monday, which could affect classes at Barrie's Georgian College. MARK WANZEL photo.

Georgian classes could be quiet in Barrie Oct. 16 after the college's faculty union rejected the latest offer for a new contract.

On Tuesday evening, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) issued a strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. next Monday.

The College Employer Council, bargaining agent for 24 Ontario colleges negotiating collective agreements with unionized staff, said its last contract offer is final.

Don Sinclair, council CEO, said Wednesday there were no talks scheduled before midnight Sunday.

“Not scheduled. We're here. We haven't walked away from the table. We're here,” he said. “The likelihood of a work stoppage, at this present time, looks fairly likely.”

Kevin MacKay, a member of OPSEU's provincial bargaining team, also said the door remains open.

“We have flat-out said we're willing to meet and wanting to meet. We haven't yet heard anything definite from the other side,” he said Wednesday. “But I think the possibility of future bargaining is there. That's definitely what we want to have happen.”

The collective agreement for college faculty expired Sept. 30, 2017. Union members include full-time permanent and partial-load contract faculty who teach seven to 12 hours a week.

A strike would affect tens of thousands of students at Ontario's public colleges. Georgian College has 11,000 full-time domestic students and 1,500 international students at seven Ontario campuses – including Barrie, Orillia and Collingwood.

OPSEU has said key contract issues include giving faculty and students more voice in academic decisions and what the union calls the 'ongoing exploitation of contract faculty'.

The possibility of a strike has escalated during the last few days.

College faculty returned to the bargaining table Tuesday morning, OPSEU said, ready to negotiate.

But the College Employer Council tabled an offer that did not address any of faculty’s key demands, said OPSEU – so the offer could not be recommended to the union's members.

OPSEU said the council has walked away from the table, claiming its offer is the final one.

The council said OPSEU rejected the colleges’ final offer of settlement and has instead given notice that a strike will begin Oct. 16.

The council also said the colleges’ final offer is comparable to, or better than, offers accepted recently by other public-sector employees, such as teachers, public servants and college support staff.

The offer includes a 7.75% salary increase during the next four years, a new full-time faculty maximum salary of $115,378, improved conversion of contract faculty to full-time positions, more faculty autonomy concerning personal workload and enhanced benefits.

Sinclair confirmed Wednesday that this is the final offer.

“We're $400 million apart (annually). They (OPSEU) haven't moved since Sept. 27,” he said, noting the offer made is fair.

But MacKay, a sociology professor at Mohawk College in Hamilton, said that number is dated, from when OPSEU wanted a 70/30% split in full-time/part-time faculty. The union is now asking for a 50/50% split.

He did acknowledge that the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act of 2017 (Bill 148) and hiring more full-time faculty will cost the colleges money.

But some of OPSEU's biggest demands, such as academic freedom for faculty, cost nothing, MacKay said. Nor does job security for contract faculty.

“I think what's been frustrating for us is there are no-cost items that we think could be the basis of a settlement, that they simply refuse to entertain,” he said. “And that's unfortunate.”

MacKay also said Wednesday he's not convinced the council's offer is carved in stone.

“Let's say we'd be surprised if it is their final offer. And I say that because in really important ways, this is actually a much worse offer that the one that was tabled before, in August,” he said.

“What seems a little bit confusing to us is it seems like council has been moving in the opposite direction that you'd expect if they were moving toward a settlement. So I don't think that that's their final position.

“Having said that, I can't read their minds that way,” MacKay said.

The Oct. 15 date was issued after faculty represented by OPSEU requested a 'no-board' report.

Under the rules set out in the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act, the union is required to give five days' notice prior to going on strike, and the College Employer Council must give five days' notice of a lockout.

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.


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