Strike vote comes down to the wire

It may be too soon for college students from across Ontario to breathe a sigh of relief.

Last week faculty at 24 colleges across the province voted in favour of management’s most recent offer. The strike, which would affect over 200,000 students, was narrowly averted by 1.25 per cent.

Some 4, 285 faculty voted in favour of the offer while 4,075 rejected it. Don Ford, communications officer with Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU), doesn’t believe a strike is the solution.

“We’re never pleased to see a strike, ever,” Ford said. “Even if the offer is rejected, there doesn’t have to be a strike.”

According to Ford, there are 500 votes unaccounted for between segregated votes and mail-in ballots. A segregated vote is defined as a vote cast by a faculty member who did not vote at the college at which they teach.

Ford expects the vote, which will be officially tallied by the Ontario Labour Relations Board, to be complete by Feb. 24.

Even if the offer is rejected once the official numbers pour in, Ford said the union is quite willing to go with binding arbitration. This would be a last resort should negotiations push past the strike deadline.

Salary is not the primary issue for the strike, Ford said. The most pressing issues on the table are workload and academic freedom.

Ford said the union believes instructors should be able to tailor the courses which they teach and not seek the college’s approval.

Ford said the union’s position is that teachers are the experts and should be acknowledged as such by their management. As it stands, negotiations have reached an impasse where these two issues are concerned.

In the event of a strike, students at Centennial College can rest assured there are support structures in place. Rosaanna Cavallaro, associate-vice president for marketing and communications at the college, believes the year is still salvageable, even if teachers walk off the job.

“We are 100 per cent there for our students,” Cavallaro said. “If the strike does happen we will put a recovery plan into place as quickly as possible.”

While Cavallaro said the college will focus its energy into recovering the academic year for its students, she also maintains they will also fully support the faculty regardless of their decision.

“Faculty is very much our friend. We will respect whatever their decision is moving forward,” she said.

Cavallaro also noted students will have full access to college facilities, counselling services and laboratories if a strike is indeed mandated.

According to a faculty vote update posted on Centennial College’s website, the Ontario Labour Relations Board aims to certify an official vote count as quickly as possible.