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Faculty union challenges legislation that forced end to strike

Algonquin College President Cheryl Jensen says she is “not surprised” that the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) has filed a charter challenge against the back-to-work legislation passed by Premier Kathleen Wynne in November.

“All I can say is we’ll have to see how that unfolds,” she told journalism students in response to a question during a class visit Jan. 25,

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said in a Jan. 29 press release that the union promised to challenge the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Labour Dispute Resolution Act, also known as Bill 178, back in November. They are now following through on that promise.

“The union’s rights and freedoms have been denied,” said Thomas. “OPSEU has the right to freely negotiate a collective agreement with the College Employer Council.”

The union hopes to see both parties return to the bargaining table, requesting that the collective agreement awarded be deemed to have expired.

Wynne chose to not enforce a provision in the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act that would allow the provincial government to step in if negotiations stalled, leading to a record-breaking five week strike.

Faculty members overwhelmingly voted against the contract offer presented by the College Employer Council in November, with 86 per cent against it. After Wynne gave both sides a three-hour window to come to an agreement, Bill 178 was pushed through, legislating the faculty back to work.

Thomas says the union is standing up for freedom of association, part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“The right to strike is essential to collective bargaining, and negotiating with the employer is central to the work of a union,” he said. “The Bill 178 return-to-work legislation violates rights and freedoms that workers have fought to win for more than a century. OPSEU is committed to protecting those hard-won rights.”

Thomas did not respond to email requests from the Times. Algonquin’s local president, Patrick Kennedy, was also unavailable for comment, and Vice president Jack Wilson deferred to union spokesperson Tim Humphries, who was out of the country when the Times tried to contact him.

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