The union representing support staff at Ontario's community colleges said Tuesday it has little hope of reaching a deal with the schools in time to avoid a strike.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents about 8,000 support staff, said the two sides have agreed on some details but not major sticking points such as job security and wages.
The unionized workers, which include cleaners, food service staff and registration officers, will legally be able to strike at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
A strike could compromise the new school year set to start next week, and a student group has urged the schools to do whatever they can to stay open.
Any work stoppage would be unfortunate because “it's going to create a tremendous amount of anxiety, certainly with students, their parents and the public in general,” OPSEU's president, Warren (Smokey) Thomas told a news conference in Toronto.
But he said it's important to safeguard good working conditions so that future employees are protected as well.
The province's 24 colleges have set up contingency plans to deal with a potential strike, said bargaining chair Gerry Barker, though he wouldn't elaborate on those plans.
“We're still very hopeful of negotiating a settlement,” he said Tuesday afternoon.
“History seems to tell us that these things go down to the last hour ... and this seems like it's going in that direction as well.”
Bargainers for the colleges last week offered support staff annual salary increases and no benefit cuts.
The offer would see union members receive 1.5 per cent more for the first two years and 1.75 per cent in the third year of the proposed contract. The 1.5 per cent increase in the first year would be a lump sum payment while the remaining two years would be base salary increases.
The union has been seeking a 3 per cent annual wage increase and job protection against the schools' use of part-time and temporary hires.
Negotiations picked up Monday, but “the prognosis is not good,” Mr. Thomas said.
“At this rate, I'm not optimistic that a settlement can be reached” by the deadline, he said.
Union members voted last month to give negotiators the option to call a strike.
The last time the support workers went on strike was in 1979. Workers approved a strike mandate in 2008 contract talks, which concluded without any work stoppages.