Colleges, faculty in war of words as vote starts

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Striking faculty have begun voting on the final offer from the College Council.

Faculty at Fleming College say they're tired but determined as the Ontario college faculty strike has entered its fifth week.

"It's the only time in the history of the colleges the semester has been under threat", Kevin MacKay, a member of the OPSEU faculty bargaining team, said Monday.

If the strike ends this week, College Boreal's semester would be extended to December 22 and the holiday break would end early on January 3.

At Fleming College in Peterborough, Aramark has laid off about 40 part-time and student employees after closing four of seven locations, said Travis Doak, the university's director of housing, food and conference services.

The colleges, who are forcing this vote to be supervised by the Ontario Labour Relations Board, said this offer came out of the latest round of negotiations on November 6.

The faculty will be voting this week on the College Employer Council's latest offer.

On Monday, the College Employer Council accused the union of spreading misinformation about the proposed contract and launched a website to explain what is contained in the offer.

Highlights include a 7.75 per cent salary hike over four years to a maximum of $115,378, improved benefits, improvements for contract teachers, and support for a "government-led task force on the future of Ontario colleges, including staffing models and precarious work".

Sonia Del Missier, the chair of the colleges' bargaining team, said all major issues in the offer have been agreed on by both sides except for language surrounding academic freedom.

"The union is telling you that this is a different offer than what we worked on with the union - one with concessions, one that will harm faculty".

"We're nervous, we're very stressed out, we have some anxiety", she said.

Huckla, however, said Niagara College administrators seem to be listening to the concerns related by the student union, while also keeping them informed about the process going on.

When talks broke off, she said academic freedom was the key issue left to resolve.

"From the union's perspective, they talk about academic control and they've really determined that it's got to be either (faculty) or (management)".

"It's not the original offer, it's the negotiated offer", says Cambrian College President Bill Best.

Union members do applaud the government's plan to possibly reimburse students in financial need with saved wages from the 12,000 Ontario faculty on strike.

"All students are struggling with continued uncertainty", Matthews said in a released statement.

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