Ontario high school teacher deal bodes well for other contract talks

Provincial affairs reporter Mike Crawley breaks down the tentative deal between Ontario public high school teachers and the province, and what it means for parents with children in the elementary, Catholic and Francophone systems.

Intensive negotiations still on the horizon, chair of school board umbrella group warns

Education Minister Liz Sandals, here touring a school in Hamilton, said she's pleased a deal has been reached with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation. But what will that deal mean for other teachers who are in a legal strike position? (John Rieti/CBC)

The tentative contract between the union representing Ontario's public secondary teachers and the province has no doubt left many parents relieved, although those with children in the elementary, Catholic and Francophone systems are likely wondering what the agreement means for them.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) reached the deal with the provincial government and the Ontario Public School Boards Association in the wee hours of Thursday morning. 

It's a crucial breakthrough, because it's the first agreement reached since contracts expired for all four teachers' unions a year ago, giving it the potential to set a precedent for the other three. All are in a legal strike position, with the clock ticking toward the start of school on Sept. 8. 

The OSSTF deal is just one sign the often tense relationship between the teachers' unions and Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government is easing.

Contract talks are back on track, and none of the teachers unions are threatening to hit the picket lines right after Labour Day. The school year will start on time, and classes are on for everyone. 

However, parents could see some effects of work-to-rule campaigns in the elementary and Catholic schools. 

ETFO steps up work-to-rule campaign

I'm not going to speculate on what's going to happen or where we're going to be- Sam Hammond, ETFO President

If the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario does not have a deal by the time its 78,000 members go back to work, teachers won't run field trips, participate in meet-the-teacher nights or do school fundraising.

Extra-curricular activities are not on the ETFO's hit list. Keeping that leverage in reserve suggests they are still two steps away from walking off the job. 

Administrative gambit

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association is still in the midst of talks that are scheduled to continue until  Tuesday. OECTA is talking about an "administrative work-to-rule" campaign.

This would be similar to what elementary schools saw last year when ETFO refused to participate in certain staff meetings and refused to enter marks and comments into the report card computer system. 

However, neither of these work-to-rule campaigns will happen if the unions reach tentative deals before class resumes. The chances of this appear to have increased with the OSSTF deal. 

Similar sticking points

The catch is whether the sticking points for ETFO and OECTA resemble the issues that mattered for the secondary teachers.

For the high school teachers, one key issue was a push by the school boards to allow class size limits to be exceeded. ETFO and OECTA have suggested this is a stumbling block in their negotiations, too. 

Since the details of the OSSTF deal are not being made public, it's unclear how negotiators handled the Wynne government's firm stance on what`s come to be known as "net zero." That is, the government has said there will be no wage increase unless equal overall savings on wage costs are negotiated as a tradeoff.

Each union has its own issues, and there's no guarantee the others will agree to a one-size-fits-all contract. 

"I'm not going to speculate on what's going to happen or where we're going to be," ETFO president Sam Hammond said Thursday. "I want to get back to the table on Sept. 1, deal with the issues and move ahead." 

Michael Barrett, chair of the school board umbrella group OPSBA, said Thursday the bargaining team cannot rely on "the cookie-cutter approach of being able to have one agreement and just have it roll out to the rest of the bargaining units. There will still be some heavy lifting and some intensive negotiations to take place with other unions."

However, if the province was willing to make this deal with OSSTF, it certainly bodes well for the rest of the school system. 

The smallest teachers' union, L'Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), has 10,000 members and is in a legal strike position, but so far is not threatening job action for the start of the school year.


Mike Crawley

Provincial affairs reporter

Mike Crawley is a senior reporter for CBC News, covering provincial affairs in Ontario. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C. He was born and raised in Saint John, N.B.


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