Update: OPSEU and the 24 community colleges in Ontario failed to reach an agreement by the midnight Wednesday deadline. Unionized support workers at Fanshawe College are now on strike.
By Sean Meyer
Although an agreement is yet to be reached despite a looming midnight deadline, representatives of Fanshawe College and its unionized support workers remain hopeful a strike can be averted.
Talks continued in Toronto on Wednesday (Aug. 31) to reach an agreement between the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) — representing approximately 8,000 support workers — and 24 community colleges across the province. The union has said it will take its workers out on strike on Sept. 1 should the two sides fail to reach an agreement.
Leanne Perreault, Fanshawe College’s manager of corporate communications, said Wednesday afternoon she was still hopeful an agreement could be reached before the midnight deadline.
“As of right now, talks continue. The parties have until midnight tonight for a resolution,” Perreault said. “The sides are talking today and we are all very hopeful, and we’re all optimistic, this can be resolved.”
OPSEU Local 109 president Margaret Rae is a member of the negotiating committee and was unavailable to comment on the talks. However, Ann Cummings, Local 109 first vice-president, said she believes the fact talks remain ongoing is a hopeful sign a resolution is possible.
“Really, I have no sense of things at all. But I am hopeful since we are still at the table,” Cummings said. “I suspect if there was no hope at all, they wouldn’t be sitting at that table.”
Talks between the two sides have been ongoing for several months. Cummings said the union is fighting to protect job security for its members, although she added wages and benefits are part of that package as well.
College support staff last took job action in 1979.
Should the two sides fail to reach an agreement, Perreault said there are plans in place to make sure the college is able to welcome back its students next week with as little disruption to services as possible.
“The college will be open, classes will be running. Students are asked to come to class as they normally would,” Perreault said. “We have contingency plans in place to cover off the services that will be affected. We have a number of different things in place.”
Despite the fact this strike could be taking place at the start of the school year, Perreault said there is never a good time for job action.
“I think it is safe to say nobody wants this to happen, but the prudent thing to do is make sure plans are in place. We will be prepared, in case of a strike, to welcome students back,” Perreault said. “Any time there is a potential strike it is difficult. When looking at students and their school year you want to make sure they get the education they are here for. A strike at any time is not a good thing.”
As she awaits word on negotiations, Cummings reiterated OPSEU has declared its intention for workers to take to the picket line if there is no agreement.
“We are hopeful, but our plans are in place,” Cummings said. “Everyone has their duties. If a strike is called for we will be on the picket line at 7 a.m.”