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High school teachers prepared to accept government mediation offer

Last Updated Dec 7, 2019 at 1:40 pm EDT

Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation president Harvey Bischof. CITYNEWS/Josef Fazio

The union representing Ontario’s secondary school teachers says it will call off a one-day strike next week if the Ford government removes “unilaterally enacted” impediments to bargaining.

Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation president Harvey Bischof said they would accept Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s proposal of private mediation and postpone next Wednesday’s walkout if the government removes three key issues – planned increases to class sizes, mandatory e-learning, and allowing some room for bargaining on pay increases above one per cent.

“The minister cannot claim that he is fighting for students and laser-focused on keeping students in class while at the same time insisting that cuts to their education and legislative interference in free collective bargaining remain in place,” Bischof said in a statement released Saturday.

The government announced in the spring that it was increasing average high school class sizes from 22 to 28 over four years and requiring four online credits to graduate. In recent weeks, it has offered a class-size increase to 25 instead, and dropped the e-learning requirement to two courses.

But the teachers don’t want any mandatory online courses or any class size increases. They note that the government’s offer of increasing class sizes to the lower target of 25 would also mean local class size limits are removed, essentially allowing the province to see the number of students per class climb indefinitely.

In a statement released Saturday afternoon, Lecce called on union leaders to agree to private mediation without any preconditions.

“This demonstrates yet again that if OSSTF does not get their demands …they will continue to strike and hurt our kids,” said Lecce. “Enough with the games that singularly hurt our kids.”

On Friday, Lecce said one of the key issue at the bargaining table was compensation with the union asking for around two per cent. He condemned the increases, saying “it’s time to name and shame OSSTF’s unacceptable demands” for a $1.5 billion compensation increase.

Bischof says the Education Minister has his facts “flagrantly wrong,” adding that the compensation proposal put forward is closer to $200 million. He said the minister was “deliberately inflating the figure” to obscure the truth.

“This from a government that gave MPPs a 20 per cent increase in their housing allowance. This from a government that gave landlords the right to increase rents by 2.2 per cent in 2020 to keep up with inflation,” said Bischof. “But they maintain that those paying the rent should not be able to meet rising costs and, in his words, should be shamed for asking to do so.”

Bischof called Lecce’s comments inflammatory and destructive adding it makes reaching an agreement much harder bringing with it long lasting ill effects.

Leaders of the Ontario elementary, secondary and Catholic school unions will all be on hand for a rally taking place at Queen’s Park today which is being organized by Unifor.

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report