TORONTO -- The union representing striking Ontario college faculty called Tuesday for its members to reject their employers' latest contract offer.

Talks between the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents the striking workers, and the College Employer Council, which represents the province's 24 colleges, broke down Monday, with the council asking the Ontario Labour Relations Board to schedule a vote on their offer.

OPSEU's president said the two sides had been "very, very close" to a deal before the council contacted the labour relations board.

"We're at a bit of a loss as to understand why they have gone and taken really the extraordinary step of going to the (board) and looking for a vote," Warren "Smokey" Thomas said at a news conference. "It's caught everybody off guard."

Ontario's 12,000 college professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians have been on strike since Oct. 15, leaving 500,000 full time and part time students out of class.

The union's main point of contention has been the level of input college instructors have into the way courses are taught and evaluated, said OPSEU bargaining team chair JP Hornick.

"Who is better placed to make decisions for our classrooms? Is it the faculty that are working with our students or the administrators who may not have even taught before and don't know the subject matter?" Hornick asked.

The council's final offer is step backward, Hornick said.

"(Their) offer contains concessions that undermined everything we had negotiated and agreed to," Hornick said.

Sonia Del Missier, the chair of the colleges' bargaining team, said earlier this week that the council had addressed the union's concerns about job security, wages and academic freedom.

Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews has said the government wants to see students return to the classroom as quickly as possible.