The union representing Ontario’s public high school teachers says they have begun a one-day strike after ongoing contract negotiation talks stalled.
The strike, which was formally announced through a statement after an earlier update on negotiations, began at midnight on Wednesday.
“We came to the hotel on Saturday morning four days ago with hope — hope that the government would finally move forward with proposals that are good for Ontario students,” Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), told reporters during a news conference at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Toronto Tuesday evening.
“Over four days of bargaining, the Ford government did not forward a single proposal to secure quality of education for Ontario students, not a single proposal to protect class sizes (and) not a single proposal to ensure students have access to the support staff that some of them require to be successful.”
Bischof’s statement came moments after Education Minister Stephen Lecce organized a last-minute news conference to ask the union and educators to not walk off the job.
“I’m calling on the OSSTF this evening to cancel strike action tomorrow, to continue bargaining and to reach a deal that keeps kids in class,” Lecce said.
“I want OSSTF to commit to exploring all options available including independent, third-party mediation so we can resolve this.”
Lecce said he’s proposing the same type of mediation that saw the Ontario government come to a contract agreement with CUPE education workers in October.
Amid an ongoing work-to-rule campaign, OSSTF announced last week that teachers could walk off the job on Wednesday in order to turn up the pressure during tense labour negotiations with the Progressive Conservative government. The union hasn’t had a contract in place since August.
Sources familiar with the negotiating positions of the Ontario government and the OSSTF, but not authorized to speak publicly, previously told Global News issues surrounding compensation, class sizes, e-learning and layoffs have been major points of contention at the bargaining table.
Lecce said the main issue in the talks is compensation, with the government recently passing legislation to cap annual wage increases for all public sector workers at one per cent for three years. The union is asking for inflationary increases, which would amount to about two per cent.
The minister said the government remains ready to bargain, but did not provide any further details of the new framework apparently offered on Tuesday. Lecce said the teachers’ union is choosing to escalate the talks and said governments of all political stripes have faced similar challenges over the past few decades.
Bischof dismissed the claim that compensation is the main issue as “outrageous,” going on to accuse Lecce of engaging in “stunts” and not bargaining “in good faith.”
He reiterated that educators will be back in Ontario classrooms on Thursday.
“While we sympathize absolutely with students and parents who are facing disruption and anxiety, a single-day strike doesn’t come close to the kind of disruption that this government will wreak on the education system if they’re allowed to go forward with their destructive proposals,” Bischoff said.
Some of the province’s largest school boards – including the Toronto District School Board and Peel District School Board – have said they will be forced to close their high schools in the event of job action.
Boards where OSSTF also represents education workers – like the Waterloo Region District School Board and Ottawa-Carleton District School Board – were scheduled to close both high schools and elementary schools in the event of strike action.
School boards officials across Ontario were posting updates on their websites about how strike action was impacting operations.
— With files from The Canadian Press and Ryan Rocca