High school teachers and education workers represented by Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) at nine public school boards are participating in a second one-day strike as contract talks between their union and the provincial government remain stalled.
As of midnight on Wednesday, OSSTF-represented workers engaged in a full withdrawal of services at the following school boards:
- Toronto District School Board
- Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board
- Grand Erie District School Board
- Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board
- Near North District School Board (elementary and secondary schools affected)
- Rainy River District School Board
- Simcoe County District School Board
- Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (elementary and secondary schools affected)
- Trillium Lakelands District School Board
Harvey Bischof, president of OSSTF, said the union and the government have not held contract talks since last week. He said the strike could not be avoided despite Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s pleas to call it off and enter into third-party mediation with the government.
“We have a government that hasn’t said they want to meet us at the table,” he said, adding the union hasn’t heard anything back on proposed mediation dates. Bischof said the last time the two sides met was for four days up until Dec. 3 at midnight.
“The government put forward not a single proposal during that time and we have the last proposals on the table that they need to respond to,” Bischof said.
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Bischof accused Lecce of ratcheting up rhetoric around the talks instead of engaging in constructive bargaining.
On Tuesday afternoon, Lecce said meeting all the union’s compensation and class-size demands and applying those same terms to other education unions, would cost the province $7 billion over three years.
“Instead of bringing that costing to us, and explain it to us, they release it to the media and then are unable to explain their $7 billion figure,” Bischof said on Wednesday during the strike action. “If they’re including in that the cost of maintaining the status quo of the education system, they’re inflating the number in order to inflame the rhetoric.”
Lecce said bowing to the OSSTF’s demands may leave the government with no other choice but to offer the same terms to other education labour groups.
“They choose not to consider the impacts outside of OSSTF as if they live in isolation to the other unions and education workers, but they don’t,” he said.
Meanwhile, it was announced on Tuesday that the provincial government reached a tentative agreement with the Educational Workers’ Alliance of Ontario — one of several unions currently in labour negotiations with the government.
Wednesday’s job action comes exactly a week after OSSTF engaged in a province-wide walkout. It’s been part of an effort 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.
“But our real hope is we get to the bargaining table, negotiate a deal that supports the quality of education in this province and then there will be no further action required,” Bischof said Wednesday.
Bischof said the union knows Wednesday’s pending disruption will impact students and parents, but said teachers have no choice but to push back against increases in class sizes and mandatory e-learning courses.
“If we step back and allow this government to simply erode the quality of education, the long-term consequences of that will be disastrous,” he said.
“We’re trying to be measured in our approach so we’re balancing the need to raise public awareness to the cuts that the government has already imposed before bargaining has even concluded, and wants to continue to impose and deepen over the next couple of years. We’re trying to balance that with the disruption of students.”
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 — something it argued would cost $200 million.
Lecce argued that those wages increases for the OSSTF members would cost the government $1.5 billion over four years.
“If they don’t get that additional enhancement, they will continue striking. That, I think, is really unfair for kids,” Lecce told reporters Wednesday. “We have been negotiating this process for months and they have made it clear that their priorities — one of which includes the $1.5 billion figure because that’s the consequence of that request — and the fact is that I believe that students should not be out of class because the OSSTF did not get a $1.5 billion increase in pay. That’s just totally unfair to our kids.”
School boards officials were posting updates on their websites about how strike action was impacting operations.
— With files from The Canadian Press and Ryan Rocca