School year may be in jeopardy 0
As the deadline for reaching a settlement with their 10,000 member faculty a week away, Ontario’s 24 colleges are saying only the union can prevent the possibility of a labour action disrupting the start of the school year.
On Thursday, members of the colleges’ bargaining team issued both a press release and conducted a conference call for the media, explaining how talks have been stalemated, and only the union representing the faculty can prevent potential strike action.
The current collective agreement expires Aug. 31.
Sonia Del Missier, chairperson of the colleges’ bargaining team and vice-president academic at Cambrian College, said at this point in time neither side is close to reaching a settlement, with the union representatives rejecting the colleges’ offer of a two-year wage freeze, but demanding no other concessions.
“We can’t pretend that bargaining is progressing. We’ve been at this since June and we’ve had a conciliator working with both sides over the last two weeks,” Ms. Del Missier said.
“Yet we remain far apart on major issues and the union is driving toward a strike vote on Sept. 10. There is the real prospect of a strike in September, perhaps as early as Sept. 15,” she added.
The chair called on the union to cancel the strike vote, which, if the majority of college teachers vote in favour of a strike mandate, would give the union the ability to trigger a province-wide strike with just five days’ notice.
“The union has the power to avoid a strike by calling off its strike vote and, instead, work with us to reach a settlement. A strike vote won’t make the union’s demands more affordable and it won’t get the colleges any more money.”
Ms. Del Missier said the whole dispute really comes down to money.
She points to the extra $200 million over the next two years the colleges say it would cost them if they met union demands, a range of salary, staffing and workload proposals, including:
• $140 million increase in workload and staffing costs to deliver the exact same programs as today;
• $46 million to fund salary increases of 3.5 per cent over two years plus another 2.7 per cent in grid movements.
“An additional $200 million in costs are completely unaffordable. The provincial government will not fund salary increases and will not support increased costs to service delivery,” she said.
“Given the times we are in, (our offer) is a very fair offer that pauses maximum salaries at $102,186, allows for grid movement to invest in our younger faculty, but asks for no concessions from faculty,” said Ms. Del Missier.
She said there is still time to reach a negotiated settlement with five days of bargaining remaining before the contract expires on August 31, 2012.
“However, until the union drops its unaffordable proposals and seriously considers the colleges’ offer, the likelihood of a settlement will remain remote and the threat of a strike will increase,” said Ms. Del Missier.
As for what contingency could be done to save the fall semester should college faculty walk off the job, the CEO of the College Employer Council, mandated to do the negotiating on behalf of the province’s colleges, refused to discuss the possibility at this time.
“I’m not going to speculate on that kind of aspect,” Don Sinclair said. “We still have five days of bargaining left, and we’re trying to drive towards getting an agreement.”
Stephen Uhler is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist