Ontario English Catholic teachers vote to hand union strike mandate

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce speaks to journalists at Queen’s Park, in Toronto, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, after a tentative agreement was reached between the Government and CUPE, averting a school strike. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

The day after elementary school teachers in Ontario voted in favour of a strike mandate, Catholic teachers have handed their union the same bargaining tool.

Teachers represented by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) voted 97 percent in favour of a strike mandate on Thursday. The union represents around 45,000 teaching staff in English Catholic schools across the province from elementary to Grade 12.

“Our overwhelming strike mandate sends a clear message to the Ford Conservative government and the representatives of Catholic school boards that Catholic teachers want to see meaningful progress and results at the bargaining table,” union president René Jansen in de Wal said in a statement.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce called the vote “disappointing.”

The union was at pains to point out that a strike vote does not mean teachers will walk off the job.

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“Taking a strike vote and receiving a strong strike mandate does not necessarily mean that Catholic teachers will take job action,” the union said. “In fact, such a strong strike mandate may make job action less likely – but only if the Minister and Catholic school board representatives heed the message being sent.”

Lecce reiterated his calls to keep classrooms open.
“We stand with parents who insist that their children stay in class without disruption and with the full school experience,” he said.

“It is disappointing that OECTA members have voted to put themselves on a path to strike.”

Lecce pointed to the binding arbitration deal the province has reached with secondary school teachers as an alternative route for teaching unions to go down.

The latest strike vote means both English Catholic and elementary teachers could stage strikes during the fall if their unions feel negotiations with the Ford government are not progressing.

If talks fail, in the eyes of the union, the process would end with a “no-board” report. That would effectively trigger a countdown to a strike.

Once the no-board notice has been released by the Ministry of Labour, the union would have to wait 17 full days before educators could legally walk off the job after giving notice of strike action.

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The 17-day period allows school boards the chance to prepare for the strike and gives parents a window to plan out their child-care options.

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