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Ontario public high school teachers on one-day strike

Last Updated Dec 4, 2019 at 9:20 am EST

Ontario’s public high school teachers are officially on a one-day strike Wednesday.

Late Tuesday night the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) announced that they will take strike action if the government did not come forward with “proposals that get us to a tentative agreement” by their midnight deadline.

In an official statement, the OSSTF said the strike will go ahead as planned.

“After four consecutive days at the bargaining table, during which the government advanced not one proposal addressing major issues that affect the quality of education in Ontario, teachers and education workers represented by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation began a one day, province-wide walkout at one minute after midnight this morning,” the statement read.

Several parents held a rally outside the Sheraton centre Tuesday evening, where contract talks were taking place, to show their support for the teachers.

Last week, OSSTF announced that it’s given the province the mandatory notice that its members intend to walk off the job on Wednesday. Sixty-thousand public high school teachers will walk off the job but will return to class on Thursday.

Both elementary and high school teachers began administrative work-to-rule campaigns last week, picketing during non-school hours and withdrawing from some services that they assure won’t affect student learning.

The four major teachers’ unions, which have been trying to ink new labour deals since previous contracts expired on Aug. 31., have all expressed frustration with what they say has been a lack of progress at the bargaining table.

Need to know

Since a deal has not been reached, parents are encouraged to make alternative arrangements for their children as several public high schools will be closed.

Toronto District School Board
High schools will be closed to students, and classes will be cancelled at adult day and secondary night schools. Out-of-school and after-school activities like field trips and sports will be also be cancelled.

Peel District School Board
High schools will be closed to students and night school classes will be cancelled. Out-of-school activities will also be cancelled. Evening permits will continue as usual in secondary schools.

York District School Board
High schools will be closed to students. Daycares running at secondary schools are expected to run as usual but parents are asked to confirm with their daycare provider.

Durham District School Board
High schools as well as Durham Alternative Secondary School and Grove Secondary School will be closed to students and night school classes will be cancelled. Day credit continuing education classes and youth hubs at six secondary schools (Ajax HS, Brock HS, Eastdale CVI, GL Roberts CVI, Henry Street HS, and RS McLaughlin CVI) will be cancelled as well.

Halton District School Board
High schools will be closed to students.


Ahead of the strike

Just hours before the official strike announcement, both Education Minister Stephen Lecce and union president Harvey Bischof addressed the media in back-to-back news conferences.

Lecce called on the union to cancel their potential strike action, calling it “irresponsible and unfair” to parents and students. He asked for the union to “cancel this needless escalation” and “continue bargaining and to reach a deal that keeps kids in class.”

The minister claimed that in the 200 says since the government and union began the bargaining process, the OSSTF have not budged on their demands. He also reiterated his claims made the previous day — that compensation was the main point of contention.

“They have not made any substantive moves since their first proposal was tabled – not one move,” Lecce said again on Tuesday. “Even while the government has made enhanced efforts, there is no indication that OSSTF intends to make any moves except to reaffirm their insistence on a $1.5 billion increase in pay and benefits.”

Lecce further added the union refused mediation — a claim Bischof denies, saying they currently have a mediator at the table. Bischof also disputed Lecce’s claim that bargaining had gone on for 200 days.

“We made proposals on behalf of our support staff 62 days ago … on behalf of our teachers 64 days ago. So this 200 day number that he is quoting relates to absolutely nothing real,” said Bischof.

In addition, Bischof dismissed Lecce’s claim that the union was demanding a $1.5 billion pay increase, as opposed to the $750 million being offered by the province, and that money was the main sticking point.

“That $1.5 billion number bears no relationship to the reality of what this union is negotiating for,” he said. “The increase that we are proposing — a cost of living adjustment that would keep my members in line with inflation after seven years of falling behind inflation — would amount to something a little over $200 million in a three-year collective agreement.”

Bishof added that the minister is “simply trying to inflame the situation” by making compensation the focus, while the union is concentrating on several “quality of education issues” including class sizes and mandatory e-learning.

“I think it’s beneath a minister of the Crown to conduct himself that way and it certainly doesn’t advance negotiations,” he said adding that Lecce does not bargain in good faith.

In response to Lecce’s comments about tabling various offers, Bischof said the government has not put forth a single proposal to secure quality of education, protect class sizes or ensure students have access to support staff over the past four days of bargaining.

Lecce said that since the union had refused all of the government’s proposed options and amendments to their plans, he asked them, in turn, to bring forth “any innovative option they may have.”

In addition, Lecce claimed the union rejected a proposal tabled last week with respect to education workers. However Bischof said the union immediately responded to a term sheet presented to them by the government with regard to support staff bargaining, but has heard nothing back since.

Further, Bischof said the union had presented the government a term sheet with regard to occasional teacher bargaining and have also not heard back on that.

According to Bischof, the most important thing the government needs to do to make headway in bargaining is to take the cuts off the table.

“Stop levering children’s education environment and education quality against the bargaining table,” he said.

“While we sympathize 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 are allowed to go forward with their destructive proposals.” Bischof said. “They will trash the internationally renowned education system that Ontario has.”