OPSEU, which represents 12,000 college faculty across Ontario, is one step closer to striking. The current collective agreement expires Sept. 30. (Devyn Barrie photo)

Thousands of college professors across Ontario, including faculty from Algonquin, could be on picket lines as of this Monday, Oct. 16 if a new deal with college management is not reached by 12:01 a.m. that day.

OPSEU, which represents 12,000 college faculty, set the strike deadline on Tuesday – the first day back at the bargaining table for the two sides in about a week. More talks were scheduled for Oct. 11-12, OPSEU tweeted on Oct. 10.

“Today was another frustrating day of bargaining… (colleges) have walked away from the table,” said JP Hornick, chair of OPSEU’s college bargaining team, in a news release. “The purpose of setting a strike deadline is to get negotiations moving – before it’s too late.”

As talks have faltered for weeks, OPSEU has inched closer toward a strike since mid-September, when a strike vote was held among faculty – it passed with 68 per cent province wide and 75 per cent within Algonquin.

Timeline of negotiations. (Devyn Barrie graphic)

Explore the full timeline of contract bargaining

Cheryl Jensen, Algonquin president, wrote in an email to students and staff that she is “disappointed” by the news of a strike notice.

“However, I commit to you, as I have in the past weeks, that no student will lose their year because of the work stoppage,” she wrote. “In addition, we will work towards a harmonious return of our colleagues, once the work stoppage is over.”

OPSEU faculty were left without a collective agreement after the last one expired on Sept. 30.

If a strike does occur, classes for regular full-time programs and projects would stop, wrote Victoria Ventura, Students’ Association president in an email to students on Oct. 6. All three college campuses, as well as SA facilities, would remain open and operational.

Courses through the Centre for Continuing and Online Learning would continue, as would co-op placements.

“The (Students’ Association’s) position is that students belong in the classroom,” Victoria Ventura, president of the Algonquin SA, told the Algonquin Times on Oct. 5. “We certainly hope a fair collective agreement can occur.”

The College Employer Council, which represents colleges in bargaining, has so far declined to engage on so-called academic freedom – a key demand of OPSEU. The union says college teachers don’t have the same liberties in teaching as their university counterparts and wants to establish academic senates at all colleges. One already exists at Sheridan College.

The senates would be made up of faculty, student and administrative representatives who would make academic decisions — but Sinclair said that’s more of a management issue than one for faculty.

“Administration of the college is not so much a term of employment,” Sinclair said.

OPSEU put forward a comprehensive offer of settlement on Sept. 27, while also formally rejecting the College Employer Council’s offer first tabled in August. OPSEU’s offer revised some of its demands while keeping the same basic concept.

With just a few days left of bargaining, time to make a deal is running out – and don’t think the union isn’t serious about striking if necessary.

“The only way in which workers… can put pressure (on employers) or have any sort of pressure is through withdrawing their labour if necessary,” said JP Hornick.