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Striking college faculty reject offer

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TORONTO—Ontario's striking college faculty have voted to reject a contract offer and continue their nearly five-week job action.

The 12,000 college professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians have been off the job since Oct. 15, leaving some 500,000 students out of class.

Talks between the colleges and the union broke down on Nov. 4, prompting the colleges to request the final offer vote.

After 86 percent of faculty rejected it, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said she would meet with college and union representatives this afternoon “to discuss how we can resolve this situation immediately and get students back to class where they belong.”

“Students have been in the middle of this strike for too long and it's not fair,” she wrote in a statement.

“We are looking at all of our options, but I am hopeful that an agreement to return students to class immediately can be reached by the parties.”

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents the workers, had recommended the colleges' contract proposal be rejected.

The colleges have said the offer includes a 7.75 percent salary increase over four years, improved benefits, and measures to address concerns regarding part-time faculty, with language surrounding academic freedom remaining as the only major outstanding issue.

But the union said the offer contained “serious concessions” that were not agreed to, which would erode faculty rights and contribute to an unsustainable staffing model.

“No one is surprised that college faculty rejected the [College Employer] Council's forced offer,” union bargaining team head JP Hornick said in a statement.

The union called on the colleges to return to the bargaining table this afternoon.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said the forced vote was a “bully move” by the colleges.

“At a time when we were only a few steps away from getting a deal, they overplayed their hand,” he said in a statement.

The head of the colleges' bargaining team said it will be looking to the provincially-appointed mediator for direction now.

“This is a terrible result for the 500,000 students who remain out of class,” Sonia Del Missier said in a statement.

“I completely sympathize with our students who have been caught in this strike for more than four weeks.”

The provincial government has ordered the colleges to create a fund—using savings from the strike—to help students who may be experiencing financial hardship because of the labour dispute.

Advanced Education minister Deb Matthews has estimated Ontario's 24 colleges have saved about $5 million so far.

Law firm Charney Lawyers, meanwhile, filed a proposed class action against the 24 colleges on Tuesday, saying 14 students have come forward to potentially stand as representative plaintiffs.

The notice of action alleges the colleges breached contracts with students by failing to provide vocational training and a full term of classes.

It seeks full refunds for students who choose not to continue with their programs and refunds “equivalent to the value of the lost instruction” for those who do want to continue.

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