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College students fear staff strike

Ontario college support staff still at the table just weeks before fall semester


 

Ontario’s college students today urged support-staff workers and management at the province’s 24 public colleges to reach a new collective agreement before classes start in the fall.

College Student Alliance (CSA) president Jenn Howarth said that her organization is worried about stalemated negotiations between the Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents 6,500 support staff at Ontario colleges, and management.

“We are quite concerned that both sides appear to be no closer to reaching a new agreement,” she said.

Howarth said that the CSA became concerned when OPSEU left negotiations a couple of weeks ago, and the organization has since established a website to inform their members of updates.

The CSA will take no position if a strike occurs.

“We aren’t necessarily taking a stance about who’s right and who’s wrong,” she said. “It’s more: Let’s come to an agreement so that way our students are receiving the essential services and the quality of education that they paid for.”

The chair of the support staff’s bargaining team, Rod Bemister, said that the union did leave the table in June because it wanted to put a vote on the proposal to its members, but that there are still nine scheduled days before the current collective agreement expires on Aug. 31.

There will also be a mediator at the table for the remaining negotiations.

The most recent proposal by the College Compensation and Appointments Council (CCAC) was rejected by OPSEU. The June proposal called for a two-year agreement that would see support staff receive a three-per-cent raise each year. The union has said that because college faculty received a four-per-cent wage increase two years ago after it entered binding arbitration, and because administrators “are getting more than” four per cent, support staff should receive no less.

On July 16, 66 per cent of support staff voted 69 per cent in favour of a strike mandate. 79 per cent of union members also rejected the CCAC proposal.

Both sides will head back to the bargaining table for three days beginning on Aug. 12.

Gord Wright, the president of OPSEU Local 421 at Loyalist College, told Belleville’s Intelligencer last week that a strike was a “last resort”.

“Now that the bargaining team has received a strike mandate, this should help in the bargaining process,” Wright was quoted saying, adding that “there’s not talk of strike right now.”

Cambrian College has set up an automated message about the potential strike that is the first option on the phone service’s electronic menu. The voice declares that a strike is trying to be avoided, but if it happens, “We will do everything in our power to minimize its effects.”


 
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