Classes set to resume as five week college strike ends

By Kit Kolbegger

(Photo by Kit Kolbegger.)
Striking faculty members, union representatives and students came to watch the back-to-work legislation be debated in the Legislative Assembly at Queen’s Park on Sunday. (Photo by Kit Kolbegger.)

Classes will start Tuesday at Ontario colleges after MPPs passed back-to-work legislation for faculty on Sunday afternoon.

Deb Matthews, the Minister for Advanced Education with the Liberal Party, said that while the path forward might be difficult, “this terrible chapter is over.”

“The semester is saved. Every college has for every program a plan to save the semester but it’s going to be really hard on students and it’s going to be hard on faculty, because there’s a lot of catching up to do,” she said.

While there had been much talk during the strike about the Liberal government intervening, Matthews said that it would have been impossible.

“There is a very high bar. Collective bargaining is protected,” she said. She said that if the government had stepped in before Thursday’s vote to reject the College Employer Council’s last offer it “absolutely would have been challenged.”

(Photo by Kit Kolbegger.)
Cindy Forster, the NDP critic for Labour, speaks at Queen’s Park in opposition of the back-to-work legislation passed. She said striking college workers were trying to protect the college system from inequality and unfairness. (Photo by Kit Kolbegger.)

Warren “Smokey” Thomas, the president of the union representing faculty, said that he still wouldn’t rule out challenging the legislation in court.

“On the face of it, it’s a violation, but there are of course many wrinkles,” he said.

The legislation passed involves creating a task force to look at the college system, and Thomas said he was glad for it.

“We welcome it on our side of the table to shine a light on the system,” he said.

Thomas said that while the strike was a “catastrophe” for students and faculty, he thought the task force would help highlight what is wrong in the college system.

“What we say in the labour movement is when someone hands you a lemon, squeeze it and make lemonade,” he said.

Andrea Horwath, the leader of the New Democratic Party in Ontario, said she didn’t feel legislation was the best way to end the strike.

“The minister simply needs to look at the colleges’ collective bargaining act which is the piece of legislation that they could have used to get involved,” she said.

Horwath said the collective bargaining act would have allowed the government to issue a “binding directive” to force the College Employer Council to bargain with the faculty union.

“I’ve read the legislation that we’re talking about, we’ve talked to labour lawyers about that legislation. It’s clear that the minister could have at any time issued a directive,” she said.

Edith Denton, a second year student in the Bachelor of Music program at Humber College, went to Queen’s Park for a second time to watch the third reading of the back-to-work legislation. She said she just wished people would listen to what students wanted.

“I’m sick and tired of seeing all of these people who are already done school and they’re sitting in their fancy chairs, yelling about how they want to handle my education when there are 500,000 students out there that don’t get a single say in what’s happening,” she said.

Paul Callender, a first year student in the Bachelor of Music program, agreed.

“At this point, it doesn’t matter what they do, the semester is already lost. We’re not going to get the education, we’re not getting our mental health taken care of because we’re losing our reading week next semester,” he said.

Callender, who is from Calgary, said he wanted to see the semester cancelled and reconvene when his second semester would have started, or at the beginning of the next academic year. He said breaks during the school year were important to him.

“I want to be able to go home and see my family,” he said.

Humber students will receive a holiday break starting Dec. 22 and continuing till Jan. 2. The fall term has been extended to Jan. 23, which will be the last day of classes for all Humber programs.

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