Back-to-work legislation in college faculty strike tabled for this weekend

Ontario NDP delay “anti-worker” back-to-work legislation until Saturday. George Brown College says classes could resume as early as Tuesday

Updated Nov. 18 at 9:30 a.m. 

The Ontario Liberals have tabled back-to-work legislation to end the strike by Ontario college faculty. The debate on the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Labour Dispute Resolution Act  will start at 1 p.m Saturday. 

“New Democrats will not support the legislation,” said NDP leader Andrea Horwath. “I want to make that clear. This is anti-worker legislation it will be taken to the court because it basically stomps on workers rights. “

The bill would see the termination of the strike and send all outstanding issues to binding mediation-arbitration. Under the bill individuals could be fined up to $1,000 a day and the union, or employer, could be fined up to $25,000 a day for a strike or lockout.

Deb Matthews, the minister of advanced education and skills development, said the NDP not agreeing to debate the back-to-work legislation today is delaying the return of students to school.

“At this moment I do not anticipate students losing a semester if they can get back to school now.” said Matthews.

George Brown College said on their Twitter account that classes could resume as early as Tuesday, but that it was dependent on the government.

Tiffany White, the director of education at the Student Association of George Brown College—which funds The Dialog, is opposed to the back-to-work legislation.

“I don’t think it’s fair to legislate people back to work when they’ve been on strike for four weeks now,” said White. “If they were going to legislate people back to work they should have done before a lot of people lost a lot of time and wages from the strike.”

White said that she’s concerned that faculty would be “jaded and disillusioned” after being forced back to work.

“It’s not going to be a good environment for anybody,” said White. “I feel like that’s something that’s really going to impact students and it’s a bad idea to send people back to work when that’s not what they want right now.”

Mercedes Burrowes, the SA’s director of campus life, posted on Facebook that she was frustrated with the government introducing back-to-work legislation.

“I am at a complete loss of words by how this strike has been the most detrimental to the students losing their education and the faculty losing their income, while the colleges remain to pay their administration, keep our tuition money, and (if this legislation passes) will not have to bargain with anything on the line,” wrote Burrowes. “This is not fairness.”

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the  Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU, called the back-to-work legislation “the worst kind of political theatre.”

“I am disappointed in the extreme that, even after the College Employer Council extended the strike by two weeks by forcing a vote on its last contract offer, and even after 86 per cent of faculty emphatically rejected that offer, the Premier has put forward a bill that does nothing to hold the colleges responsible for their bad behaviour throughout this process,” he said in a statement on Friday. 

OPSEU, who represent 12,000 college faculty, blame the College Employer Council for the breakdown of the talks.

“The College Employer Council, refused to accept that their approach to bargaining had failed, and refused to do anything to get our students back to class,” said JP Hornick, a professor a George Brown College and the chair of the faculty union bargaining team in a statement on Thursday. 

OPSEU is now calling for the College Employer Council to be disbanded as part of any back-to-work legislation.

“Council is a shadowy agency beyond the reach of freedom-of-information and salary disclosure laws, yet it is funded entirely by public dollars and students’ tuition,” said Thomas in a statement on Thursday. “It exists for no other reason but to enrich its directors, and it should be outlawed.”

The College Employer Council said in a statement yesterday that they are in favour of back-to-work legislation being passed as soon as possible. 

“Today’s bargaining should have been focused on getting students back to class, but OPSEU chose the path of signing bonuses for faculty and a dismissal of arbitration.” said Sonia Del Missier, chair of the colleges’ bargaining team in a statement.

The council claimed in a statement that the union had asked that each college faculty member receive a $5,000 signing bonus that would come from the hardship funds being set up by colleges for students in financial need. 

At a press conference on Thursday, Hornick called that claim “a bald-faced lie” and said it was done to try and drive a wedge between students and faculty, adding that “it’s ridiculous and it’s disgusting.”

Hornick said that what the union had asked for was two weeks of pay for the delay caused by the forced vote but did not specify a dollar amount or where that money would come from. 

A statement from Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown said that his party would support the proposed back-to-work legislation. 

“My message to the Premier is this: as her meeting with both sides failed to produce concrete results and a negotiated settlement, we will support back-to-work legislation to get students back in class on Monday,” said Brown. “It is the right thing to do for students,” 

On Thursday, 86 per cent of striking faculty voted against the offer by the College Employer Council  with a 95 per cent voter turnout, according to the union. 


With files from Steve Cornwell.


Back-to-work legislation in college faculty strike tabled for this weekend