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UPDATE: Premier Wynne to legislate college faculty back to work

Province intervenes after College Employer Council and Ontario Public Service Employees Union fail to reach an agreement Thursday afternoon.
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College entrance
Striking faculty members at Ontario's 24 public colleges, including Confederation College in Thunder Bay, will likely head back to work next week with Premier Kathleen Wynne intending to legislate an end to the nearly five-week work stoppage. (Matt Vis, tbnewswatch.com)

THUNDER BAY – Premier Kathleen Wynne is preparing to bring the month-long college strike to an end by legislating the nearly 12,000 professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians back to work.

The Wynne Liberal government was intending to table legislation late Thursday afternoon that would get students back in classrooms next week, shortly after the colleges and the union representing the striking faculty members reached an impasse in negotiations that resumed hours after the educators voted to oppose the colleges’ final offer.

That legislation is now expected to be introduced at Queen's Park on Friday after it was blocked by the NDP, with leader Andrea Horwath vowing the party is prepared to debate throughout the weekend.

“I will not support back to work legislation. I want students back in classrooms Monday, and I want that achieved through a deal," Horwath said in a statement.

Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown, who during a visit to Thunder Bay last week blamed Wynne for the prolonged work stoppage and said he would have intervened sooner, issued a statement pledging to support the legislation.

"It is the right thing to do for students," Brown said.

The rejection of that contract earlier in the day prompted increased frustration from Confederation College students as the longest college strike in Ontario’s history appeared destined to extend through its fifth week.

“We want to learn. We want the education we paid for,” said Confederation College student union president Jodi Afonso, who was part of a contingent of student association leaders to meet with Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews at Queen’s Park earlier this week. “Enough is enough. That’s why our students are frustrated.”

Students at the province’s 24 colleges have been kept out of the classroom since Oct. 16. The Ontario Labour Relations Board scheduled a vote on the final offer from the College Employer Council, which represents the institutions, after the colleges’ appealed to have that contract put before the faculty members. The educators followed the recommendation of Ontario Public Service Employees Union leadership and voted 86 per cent against the offer.

Cameron White, a student in the pre-trades program, said students had been caught in the middle of the dispute and is concerned about the impact on how long the semester will extend.

“We’re going to get a shortened break, the semester is going to go into the summer time a bit further and trouble for everybody trying to find a job,” White said.

Prior to the announcement of back to work legislation, Confederation College president Jim Madder said he could hear the clock ticking to save the semester.

“It’s more difficult every week. It would push our programming forward and potentially (push) our second semester into the summer. That’s a huge issue in terms of our students earning dollars in order to sustain themselves,” Madder said.

“For some programs, it’s going to be really difficult to get all the contact teaching hours in because there’s a certain amount of defined time that has to occur. In that case, there might be a few programs that we actually do decide we’re past that threshold.”

While no announcements have been made on how the lost five weeks will be made up, Afonso said extending the semester into time typically reserved for the holiday break can be troublesome for students.

“The problem is a lot of students lose money because that three-week period they would be working, that’s their money to help pay the rent and food and perhaps books and tuition for the second semester,” Afonso said.