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The Globe and Mail

Ontario colleges to resume classes after bitter strike

Most classes for Ontario's 150,000 community college students are set to resume tomorrow , ending a bitter 18-day faculty strike settled after a warning from Premier Dalton McGuinty that he was losing patience over the dispute and he wanted college teachers back in their classrooms by this morning.

Each of the 24 colleges in the province has established its own protocol for the resumption of lessons, and students are being advised to check their school's website for exact return times.

But many of the largest institutions announced that classes won't begin until tomorrow, including Fanshawe College in London, Seneca College in Toronto, Algonquin College in Ottawa, and Centennial College in Scarborough. In Hamilton, daytime courses will resume tomorrow at Mohawk College, but classes for part-time evening students will resume tonight.

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Faculty members will return today to begin preparing for classes, and colleges have been working on plans that are supposed to allow most students to finish their semesters within their originally scheduled timelines.

The strike was unusually acrimonious, with John Stammers, 62, an accounting instructor, dying after a dispute on the picket line, and both sides still berating each other publicly over the weekend, after they agreed late Friday night to an arbitration process to end the strike. Mr. Stammers suffered head injuries after falling off the hood of a car trying to cross the picket line.

The head of the union bargaining committee, Ted Montgomery, denounced the colleges in a statement for not being ready to open their doors to students today, saying that with instructors in place, there is no reason classes can't resume. He said the scheduled resumption "calls into question" the competence of college management and the one-day delay was "inexcusable and incomprehensible."

The Association of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology of Ontario, the management negotiating side, issued a news release accusing the union of issuing news releases that contained "significant errors that need to be corrected." The college association quibbled over the union's characterization of the mediation and arbitration process being used to resolve the dispute.

There were about 9,100 professional faculty and other staff on strike, represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. Their contract expired Aug. 31, 2005.

The big issues in the dispute were wages and class size.

College instructors have a starting salary of about $32,000, an average pay of about $75,000 and a 16-year progression to reach top wage levels in their collective agreement, according to the union.

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The colleges offered a package that would have increased salaries by 12.6 per cent by the end of four years, taking the maximum pay to about $94,000. The union had proposed 12 per cent over three years.

The union says that because of rising college enrolments, about 10 per cent more instructors, or about 900 people, need to be hired. The colleges were offering about 120 additional positions above its current hiring plans, according to Rob Savage, an association spokesman.

In an interview, Mr. Montgomery said it was "horrifying" that Mr. Stammers died after an incident while picketing. He said police have not laid charges against the driver involved, and the union is prepared to offer legal advice to the family over the death.

The College Student Alliance welcomed the return to classes. The student group called on the government to provide tuition and fee rebates for class time lost to the dispute.

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