As The Outsider goes to press, striking OPSEU workers are involved in a forced vote on management’s latest offer. On November 6 while negotiations were progressing the Colleges Employer Council (CEC), the bargaining agent for the 24 Ontario colleges, suddenly asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) to schedule a vote on an offer which excluded much of the progress that had been made in the negotiations. Under Ontario labour law the employer can force a vote of the members of a union on an offer without the tentative agreement of the negotiators representing the union.
Along with the forced vote, the CEC is waging a disinformation campaign to call for the faculty to stop the strike while they wait for the vote to be organized. It hopes to paint the faculty and their union as wanting a strike, to create conditions for them to be ordered back to work by the government. The aim is to break the faculty's unity by having them back at work, where the CEC thinks faculty will be easy targets for further disinformation, spin and blackmail about why they should accept the offer "or else."
The use of the OLRB to undermine workers' collective actions reveals that it is not neutral. It is set up to criminalize workers who refuse to submit to threats and dictate and who affirm that they want negotiation. Anti-worker mechanisms like the forced vote are meant to try to break the workers' collective defence and create divisions. The CEC's ploy is sure to fail because college faculty are affirming the rights of all by striking and raising the problems facing the college system. They have taken strike action to back up negotiations towards a new equilibrium in the college system which affirms that faculty's working conditions are students' learning conditions.
Regardless of the outcome of the forced vote, an arrangement imposed in this manner will not contribute to an equilibrium in the schools which benefits the colleges, the faculty or the students. It will only contribute to disequilibrium. An equilibrium acceptable to all parties can only be established based on negotiation without resorting to dictate.
The morning of Thursday, November 16, brought the news that the results were in for the employer-forced vote on the employers’ last offer, an offer which had rolled back many of the gains previously agreed to at the bargaining table. The result of the forced vote was an overwhelming NO vote to the employers’ offer, with 95% of OPSEU members casting a vote and 86% of those who voted voting NO to the offer.