Col­lege stu­dents launch pro­posed class ac­tion law­suit

The Welland Tribune - - NATIONAL - AL­LI­SON JONES

TORONTO — Fac­ulty at On­tario’s colleges who have been on strike for about a month be­gan vot­ing Tues­day on a con­tract of­fer, as a po­ten­tial class ac­tion law­suit was launched on be­half of stu­dents.

Some 12,000 On­tario col­lege pro­fes­sors, in­struc­tors, coun­sel­lors, and li­brar­i­ans haven’t been at work since Oct. 15, leav­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of stu­dents out of class.

The Col­lege Em­ployer Coun­cil asked the On­tario Labour Re­la­tions Board to sched­ule a vote on the of­fer it has put on the ta­ble, ac­cus­ing the On­tario Pub­lic Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees Union of mis­rep­re­sent­ing it.

The union has rec­om­mended its mem­bers re­ject the of­fer.

In the mean­time, 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 strike. Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Deb Matthews es­ti­mated On­tario’s 24 colleges have saved about $ 5 mil­lion so far.

Matthews said she is “very, very con­cerned” about the stu­dents who are caught in the mid­dle of a dis­pute that has “gone on way too long.”

“I am ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed that the two sides have failed to reach an agree­ment,” she said Tues­day. “I am ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed and stu­dents are pay­ing the price. That’s just not OK. That’s not fair.”

Matthews said the process of the vote must un­fold, and back­towork leg­is­la­tion is not yet on the ta­ble.

“We can’t just in­tro­duce back- towork leg­is­la­tion be­cause we want the strike to end,” she said. “You have to meet a cer­tain thresh­old and we’re not there.”

Law firm Char­ney Lawyers filed a pro­posed class ac­tion against the 24 colleges Tues­day, say­ing

I am ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed that the two sides have failed to reach an agree­ment. I am ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed and stu­dents are pay­ing the price. That’s just not OK. That’s not fair.” Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Deb Matthews

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 stu­dents who do want to con­tinue.

The colleges have said the of­fer in­cludes a 7.75 per cent salary in­crease over four years, im­proved ben­e­fits — in­clud­ing ex­tended preg­nancy and parental leave, and a $ 500 in­crease in cov­er­age for paramed­i­cal ser­vices — and mea­sures to ad­dress con­cerns re­gard­ing part- time fac­ulty.

The chair of the colleges’ bar­gain­ing team said all ma­jor is­sues in the of­fer have been agreed on by both sides ex­cept for lan­guage sur­round­ing aca­demic free­dom.

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

Vot­ing started Tues­day and closes at 10 a. m. Thurs­day.

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