The Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation announced on Monday that its members have voted in favour of strike action.
With this vote and the Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario also voting in favour, teachers across the province are on the verge of walking off the job.
Schools in the two largest municipalities in the province, the Toronto District School Board and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, are hopeful the negotiations will have a positive outcome but both are prepared should they dissolve.
“During any work-to-rule by either ETFO or OSSTF, schools will remain open and instructional programs will continue to run,” said Ryan Bird, manager of communications at the Toronto District School Board.
“We continue to urge all sides to reach an agreement on a new contract so that students will not be affected. However, should the work-to-rule progress to a full withdrawal of services, we would have no other option but to close schools as there would not be a sufficient number of staff to supervise students and ensure their safety.”
In Ottawa, the school board would not speculate on what could happen but says they will endeavor to keep parents fully informed on any impacts the upcoming negotiations will have on the students.
“We remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached before this action comes into effect,” said OCDSB spokesperson Darcy Knoll.
“However, we will be reviewing the terms put forward by ETFO and will update parents on what impact labour disruptions could have on their children. While we know the ETFO “work-to-rule” will have some impact, our schools will remain open and classes are expected to continue as scheduled. Our primary focus in contingency planning for strike action is the health and safety of students.”
For now, schools will remain open as elementary teachers have enacted a “work to rule protocol.” Essentially what that means is teachers will continue to instruct students in the curriculum but will not participate in anything outside that scope of work.
This includes not participating in professional learning seminars, EQAO testing, PA day activities and even filling out term one report cards — instead, teachers will provide marks to the school administrators to distribute.
With the vote today, OSSTF education worker members voted 92 per cent in favour of strike action with teachers voting 95 per cent in favour. The union says it has not elected to take any job action at this time but should negotiations with the province falter, they are in a position to walk off the job.
The president of OSSTF Harvey Bischof spoke to the media on Monday afternoon and said this vote shows the members want results from the province when it comes to the negotiations.
“This is a powerful mandate from our members, and it sends a compelling message,” said Bischof in a release.
“Our members are committed to defending the quality of education in Ontario against a government that is determined to undermine it, and they are absolutely prepared to defend their ability to provide the best possible learning environment for the students they work with.”
In 2012, during negotiations, teachers elected to not participate in extracurricular activities and would only be at the school 15 minutes before and after the school day.
Minister of Education Stephen Lecce issued a statement on Monday morning calling for mediation in the negotiations in order to keep students in the classroom.
“Today, I am offering all education sector unions the option to enter into mediation,” said Lecce in his statement. “I believe this is the right step, as mediation involves an independent third party to assist the unions, trustee associations, and the Government in reaching settlements.”
Lecce goes on to say that he asks all partners to accept the offer and the government is available 24/7 to reach a deal.
Negotiations between the province and the unions are ongoing.