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Ontario college support staff on strike

Ontario college support staff members began their strike early Friday. CITYNEWS

Ontario’s 500,000 college students could have a bumpy start to the school year after support staff at campuses across the province went on strike Thursday.

About 8,000 Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) members, which include administrators, maintenance staff and library workers, began the job action at 12:01 a.m.

All college campuses across Ontario will remain open through the strike and a contingency plan has been put in place.

The colleges’ bargaining team claims no contract concessions were tabled during negotiations and that it offered a 4.8 per cent wage increase over three years.

“The colleges have provided a good offer that increases the average salary for support staff to more than $59,000 with no concessions. We had hoped to reach a settlement but, unfortunately, the union is striking over wage and benefit demands that the colleges simply cannot afford,” Gerry Barker, chair of the colleges’ bargaining team, said in a statement.

The union claims the colleges wanted contract claw backs and refused to negotiate on its proposals.

“We tried to reach an accommodation with management negotiators but it became very clear as we approached the strike deadline that they were not prepared to meet us on terms we could accept” Rod Bemister, chair of the OPSEU bargaining committee, said in a statement.

Contract talks began June 3 between the union and the College Employer Council.

College support staff hasn’t taken job action since 1979.

Union leaders were on the picket lines with members Thursday. OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas spoke at the St. James campus of George Brown College at 8:30 a.m. And Sid Ryan, the president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, spoke at both the Whitby and Oshawa campuses of Durham College.

George Brown College’s student association is supporting the striking workers.

“While we can’t support any disruption to our members’ education, we do support the workers and their right to strike, and we thank them for our future,” student association spokeswoman Cindy Brownlee said in a statement Thursday.