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Students protest, college faculty rally ahead of crucial vote

Students receive assurances semester won't be lost

Several nursing students staged a sit-in outside the offices of Georgian College President and CEO MaryLynn West-Moynes on Monday morning to discuss the faculty strike first hand.

 "A good, welcoming response,' said student Kristen Walker of the meeting with West-Moynes. "Definitely had a good conversation." 

The College has been holding webcasts to update students but Walker said it was difficult to pose questions with one person speaking versus the 11,000 that are watching.

"Especially when emotion is wrapped up in this. People are very angry. There's a huge financial component to the students. With that comes a lot of passion," Walker said.

"I think we were able to ask our questions, get the answers she was able to provide."

The nursing students said they felt better after the meeting but emphasized they are 'definitely with our faculty on this.'

Getting the chance to pose questions directly to the head of Georgian College was important. 

"She reassured us that we will not lose our semester and that if you are in  financial hardship because of this that they will help us," said student Tonya Robertson. 

"A lot of us were concerned about losing our semester. We were promised we are not losing our semester. That was huge for a lot of us," Roberston said. 

Students were also told that mental health assistance is in place. 

"It's depressing," said Alison Wilson.

"Four weeks of sitting at home. Wondering what's going to happen with our future. We want to be in class," added Myja Hogendoorn.

Striking faculty at all of the Georgian College campuses gathered in Barrie Monday morning for what was billed as a solidarity rally ahead of Tuesday's vote on the College Employer Council's most recent offer.

Representatives of the Ontario Public Service Employee Union were impressed by the large turnout. 

"We had all of our picketers come out. We had a meeting to talk about the issues. We're telling them that we have to say no and we have to go back in on our terms," said OPSEU Local 350 chief steward Anita Arvast.

Arvast says job security is still the main issue as the union wants to decrease the number of part-time, contract faculty. 

The College Employer Council says that will cost $250 million.

The union is urging faculty to reject the offer in the online and phone vote that will take place over two days starting tomorrow. 

"Then they have to bargain or it will go to binding arbitration," said Arvast, who empathizes with students. 

"We have to get back. I feel for them. I totally feel for them.  We all do. This is breaking our hearts. This is a millennial issue . I don't want my kids going out and being precarious workers their whole lives."

The students say they understand what the faculty is fighting for but there is outrage because they're not in class and feel their voices aren't being heard.

Krista Higgins, a first-year Indigenous Social and Community Development, student held a protest sign Monday for the first time in her life.

"I'm a single mom and I'm in my second program here. I'm upset because Im losing most of my semester and it pushes back and causes a lot of issues surrounding my son's daycare. I'd like to finish my program."