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Students launch class-action lawsuit against colleges

 

Jennifer Bieman and The Canadian Press

Faculty picket in front of the Niagara-On-the-Lake campus of Niagara College Monday Oct. 30, 2017. Bob Tymczyszyn/Postmedia News

Faculty picket in front of the Niagara-On-the-Lake campus of Niagara College Monday Oct. 30, 2017. Bob Tymczyszyn/Postmedia News

As faculty at Ontario’s 24 strike-shuttered colleges vote on a final offer that could end the weeks-long job action, a potential class action lawsuit was launched on behalf of students.

Toronto-based law firm Charney Lawyers filed a proposed class action against the colleges Tuesday, saying 14 students have come forward to potentially stand as representative plaintiffs.

The notice of action alleges the colleges breached contracts with students by failing to provide vocational training and a full term of classes. It seeks full refunds for students who choose not to continue with their programs and refunds “equivalent to the value of the lost instruction” for students who do want to continue.

Some 12,000 college professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians walked off the job Oct. 16, leaving more than a half million students out of class.

Last week, the College Employer Council asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board to trigger a vote on its final offer with union rank-and-file members, bypassing the Ontario Public Service Employees Union’s (OPSEU) bargaining team.

The colleges offer, tabled Nov. 6, includes a 7.75 per cent salary increase over four years, improved benefits and measures to address concerns about the use of part-time faculty.

OPSEU has called on its members to reject the offer, insisting it does not do enough to address precarious work and academic freedom – two concerns at the heart of the strike.

The electronic vote began Tuesday morning and will wrap up Thursday at 10 a.m.

In the meantime, the provincial government has ordered colleges to create a program, using money saved from the strike, to help students experiencing financial hardship.

Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews estimated Ontario’s 24 colleges have saved about $5 million so far as the strike drags into its fifth week.