Ontario’s four teachers’ unions are pursuing job actions in an ongoing dispute that’s taking place between them and the provincial government.
The unions have been bargaining new collective agreements since the beginning of September.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) has been holding a series of one-day strikes since early December, while the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) recently announced that it will hold a one-day walkout at three school boards on Monday. The union has said this will be the first in a series of rotating strikes unless there is significant progress in contract talks.
Similarly, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) will hold a one-day strike on Tuesday. The Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) began its work-to-rule campaign on Thursday, which will see members no longer completing some administration duties.
Here’s exactly what each teachers’ union is fighting for:
Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario
The ETFO has said the key issues its members are fighting for are regarding more supports for students with special needs, addressing violence in schools, preserving full-day kindergarten and class sizes.
Elementary teachers are also seeking a higher wage increase than what the Ontario government has offered.
Global News reached out to ETFO to answer questions about specific issues that the union is fighting for, but no one was available for an interview prior to publication.
“Other than cuts to education, (Premier Doug) Ford’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce has refused to give his negotiators a mandate to discuss the substantive issues we know are important for students and education workers,” ETFO president Sam Hammond said in a statement Wednesday.
“What we and parents are fighting for today will have an impact on the education of generations of students to come. At this time, our only tool to put pressure on the government to bargain seriously for the future of education is to withdraw services as part of strike action.”
Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation
On Thursday, OSSTF president Harvey Bischof told Global News the union is fighting for what he calls “quality of education” issues. He said that includes staffing levels of education workers and teachers, class-size caps and the mandatory e-learning program put forward by the province. Compensation is also an issue among the OSSTF.
“We’re proposing … status quo to the quality of education we were able to deliver just last year,” Bischof said. “We’re saying that there should be a ratio of teachers to students that takes into account both classroom and non-classroom.”
The OSSTF is asking that the average classroom ratio of students to teachers return to 22:1. In March, the provincial government announced that the new average student-teacher ratio would be 28:1, but following backlash, it was changed to 25:1.
With regards to education workers, many of which work with at-risk and high-needs students, Bischof said the union is proposing that the OSSTF maintains the numbers that are in place over the lifetime of the collective bargaining agreement.
Previously, the provincial government proposed making four e-learning credits mandatory for Ontario high school students. Following criticism, the government changed it to a requirement of two e-learning credits. Bischof said the OSSTF is arguing that a multi-party committee be created to look at the potential opportunities and pitfalls associated with e-learning before making it mandatory.
“Mandatory e-learning has no evidence to support it as a way to produce student success,” Bischof said. “Voluntary e-learning, we’re not opposing at all, but we believe that mandatory e-learning should be studied.”
When it comes to compensation, the OSSTF is proposing for its members to be able to keep up with inflation. “Our proposal in that regard is that our members, in real terms, make the same this year as they did last year,” Bischof said. “What we’re saying is that they should be able to keep up with inflation after seven years of having fallen behind inflation year after year.”
Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association
OECTA is fighting back against a number of cuts that have been made to the education sector by the provincial government. Liz Stuart, the union’s president, wasn’t available for a phone interview Thursday but provided Global News with an emailed statement.
“We cannot get into too many specific issues or details of the discussions at the bargaining table,” Stuart said in the statement. “However, it is no secret that Catholic teachers object to a number of this government’s cuts, including increases to class sizes, mandatory e-learning, and the elimination of the Local Priorities Fund, which provided services and supports for our most vulnerable students.”
The local priorities fund was previously aimed at addressing a variety of specific needs, including more special education staffing to support children in need, at-risk students and adult education.
“The government will claim that compensation is the major obstacle,” Stuart continued in the statement. “OECTA members certainly object to the government’s attempt to legislate rather than negotiate, but this is obviously not the only pressing issue at the table.”
The union’s president said that teachers must “do what is necessary” to put pressure on the government and negotiate a fair agreement.
“Teachers understand the difficulty that job action poses for parents, guardians and students, which is why we have been careful to minimize the impact on families as much as possible,” Stuart said. “If the government is sincerely concerned about students and families, we strongly urge them to come back to the table and negotiate an agreement that does not include significant, permanent cuts to the classroom.”
Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens
On Thursday, AEFO president Rémi Sabourin told Global News the main issues the union is fighting for are class sizes and e-learning. Compensation is also an issue for the French teachers’ union, in addition to a teacher shortage.
“When you speak about the class size, some of our high schools in some of the regions, maybe we have only 90 to 100 students,” Sabourin said. “If you increase the class size, then you diminish the number of teachers.”
With a reduction of one or two teachers, a school could lose six to 12 credits that could be offered, which makes it hard for the school to stay open, the union president added.
AEFO isn’t against e-learning, Sabourin said, however the union believes that it shouldn’t be mandatory.
“We need to look at it in a more wholesome way,” he added. “In some of the regions of Ontario, they don’t even have the internet capacity to do that.”
When it comes to compensation, the AEFO is asking to be able to keep up with the cost of living. “The government has tied our hands and come up with a law, a bill that says you can’t get more than one per cent, and that’s interfering in our rights,” Sabourin said.
With regard to a teacher shortage, Sabourin said not all solutions are at the table but that many are.
“Some of the solutions are there, and we’re trying to find them,” he said. “The others are with the government funding and regulation that they need to change to make sure that they’ll get enough teachers in the Francophone side.”
Ontario education minister’s position
Global News reached out to Ontario’s education ministry but was told Education Minister Stephen Lecce wasn’t available for an interview on Thursday.
That same day, however, Lecce told reporters the government will continue to try and negotiate deals with the unions.
“We certainly stand ready to continue negotiating because we have an interest in getting deals,” Lecce said. “I think we’ve signaled a willingness to be reasonable. We’ve also demonstrated to the teacher unions that we are ready to look at innovative options and offsets to achieve that objective.”
In a past interview, Lecce told Global News that the government’s move to change average classroom student-teacher ratios from 28:1 to 25:1 and to mandate two e-learning courses instead of four demonstrates its willingness to listen.
“I think with the fact that we made a major move on provincial classroom averages from 28 going down to 25, and likewise for online learning from a mandate of four to two actually demonstrates that we are listening to those that we govern, and obviously our objective to the process is to demonstrate that we’re trying to be a reasonable force at the table,” Lecce said in December.
The education minister has also repeatedly said that a key sticking point for teachers is compensation. The provincial government has capped public sector wage increases at one per cent per year.
On Wednesday, Lecce announced that the Ontario government would offer parents between $25 and $60 per day if strike actions close schools or school-based child care centres.
“Our aim has always been to reach a negotiated settlement that keeps kids in class,” the education minister said in a statement Wednesday.
— With files from Ryan Rocca, Gabby Rodrigues, Travis Dhanraj and The Canadian Press