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CEC offer rejected during week five of strike

The Ontario college strike continues as the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) voted 86 percent against the latest offer from the College Employer Council (CEC) during a forced vote.

These results were announced November 17th, during week five of the strike. There was 95 percent member turnout for this vote that took place over two days.

The offer proposed by the CEC was purportedly worse than the offer that was on the table before the strike began. JP Hornick, chair of the OPSEU’s faculty bargaining team, says in a statement that the initial offer was “full of concessions and failed to address our concerns around fairness for faculty or education quality.”

Earlier this month, Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews announced that the Ontario colleges must establish a fund to help students experiencing financial hardship due to the faculty strike. This fund is to absorb all the savings from the strike, including the unpaid staff wages and other expenses.

In a statement, Hornick says “Anything that will help students get through this difficult time is more than welcome, and we thank the minister for moving ahead with it.” While the OPSEU has spoken in favour of this move and show of support from the government, many think that not enough has been done.

Ricco Lam, an accounting student at Conestoga College, says that this strike may impact his graduation: “All my career plans are put on hold,” says Lam. “I may have to take some courses again because I don’t know when the strike will end.”

Lam says that the strike has also impacted his personal life: “I had travel plans to go back to Hong Kong to visit family and friends but had to cancel it due to the strike.” For students worrying about their financial situations, having to reschedule holiday travel plans could present additional difficulties.

A student-organized “We Want In” protest took place outside of the Ontario Legislature on November 15th. The Facebook event for the protest cites a desire for “transparency on tuition refund and other compensations from the provincial government” and “student voice.” This is one of many instances of students speaking out, demanding that their voices be heard during this strike.

On November 15, Charney Lawyers filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against the 24 colleges involved in the strike. The notice of action claims that the colleges have breached their contracts with students by failing to provide a full term of classes and vocational training. Fourteen students offered to come forward as plaintiffs.

According to the notice of action, Charney Lawyers are seeking full tuition and fee refunds for students who choose not to continue with their program, and refunds “equivalent to the value of the lost instruction” for students who do continue in their program.

This strike continues to affect approximately 500,000 students and 12,000 members of college staff. Matthews says that “both parties share the failure, and it is a failure.”