Faced with Omicron threat, Ontario colleges treated ‘differently’: Thomas

Toronto – OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas is calling on the Ontario government to immediately implement social distancing regulations, capacity limits and other health measures to protect faculty, support staff and students at Ontario’s 24 public colleges.

“Now is not the time to cut corners on health and safety,” said Thomas. “Faculty, support staff and students at our colleges should have the same basic protections that all other Ontarians in schools, workplaces and child care centres have. We are asking the Employer to sit down with us and work in a constructive manner to do what’s best for students and staff in our colleges.”

Thomas’s remarks come in the wake of the imposition of a modified provincial stage two, including online learning for elementary schools and a significantly delayed start for universities. However, many college classes started on January 4.

Thomas noted that when the modified lockdown was announced, it included colleges, but within 24 hours, it was changed to exclude them – an exclusion for which the college employer had lobbied.

“So now we have OPSEU/SEFPO members at work with no capacity limits to the number of students in classrooms, no physical distancing requirements, no contact tracing requirements, no guaranteed time for sick days or isolation, no priority vaccination boosters and no requirements for HEPA filtration systems,” added Thomas. “This is just asking for trouble.”

OPSEU/SEFPO represents thousands of college faculty and full-time and part-time support staff. The union asked for a meeting with the College Employer Council on health and safety, but was told it would not be possible until next week.

“The province has been hit with an avalanche of new COVID-19 cases, and our hospital system is staring down a potential disaster,” he noted. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to act in a timely matter to protect public health and keep Ontarians as safe as possible – including Ontario’s public colleges.”

Thomas added it was in everyone’s best interests to find a solution.

“We must ensure our faculty, support staff and students are protected as much as possible. We’re all reasonable people and reasonable people can solve problems.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931; RM Kennedy, Chair, OPSEU/SEFPO College Faculty Division, 416-346-8382; OPSEUCommunications@opseu.org

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