Any talks of an Ontario-wide college faculty strike will be avoided for now as the two sides returned to bargaining over a new collective agreement on Monday.
The CAAT-A academic wing of the Ontario Public Sector Employees’ Union and the College Employer Council have agreed to a media blackout until Thursday so “frank and open discussions” can occur.
It is the second consecutive Monday in a row that the two sides have returned to the negotiation table after mediation ended on Oct. 28. They agreed to a media blackout during the discussions.
Last Monday, the colleges asked for a conciliator, a neutral third party that can help resolve outstanding issues. It is unclear whether the talks this week will include the conciliator.
Attempted conciliation is required before the union can be in a legal position to strike or the CEC can be in the legal position to lock out its faculty.
A province-wide CAAT-A meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening after the communications blackout comes to an end.
OPSEU’s CAAT-A team and the CEC entered mediated talks on Sept. 28 but it fell apart as the union was unwilling to negotiate, according to mediator Brian Keller.
“Many of the CAAT-A team’s remaining demands are highly aspirational and completely unrealistic,” Keller wrote in a report announcing the end of mediation.
He said prior to his appointment there were more than 350 items placed on the table for discussion by the union, and 14 by the CEC. The union bargaining team reduced the number of items to 150 following discussions with the mediator.
“The CAAT-A team claims to recognize that but has showed no willingness to sufficiently moderate its demands to give me any hope that further mediation at this stage could result in a negotiated agreement,” he wrote.
College faculty and colleges are working out a new collective agreement, a written contract between the union and employer that outlines many of the terms and conditions for employees that are members of the union.
The last time CAAT-A and the CEC updated their collective agreement, in 2017, talks broke down and a record five-week strike occurred that ended in binding mediation legislated by the previous provincial Liberal government.
The union was able to find success in that last contract in the areas of part-time staff and seniority as well as a wage increase of 7.75 per cent over four years.
Later legislation from Queen’s Park introduced a rule faculty could only request up to a 1 per cent annual wage increase.
But faculty aren’t asking for more money time around. Instead, CAAT-A bargainers are focused on fair compensation, balancing workloads, strengthening equity practices and rules around intellectual property.