High school teachers' union prepares to hold strike vote
OSSTF president accusing province of not bargaining in good faith
The union that represents secondary school teachers in Ontario says it is now beginning the process of conducting strike votes with its members across the province.
In a statement released Tuesday morning, Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) president Harvey Bischof said the union has been dealing with months of delays and inaction by the province.
"The government claims that it wants to resolve these negotiations quickly, but from the beginning they have done nothing to help expedite the process, and now they are simply refusing to discuss substantive issues at the bargaining table," Bischof said. "They delayed the start of bargaining by two months and have thrown procedural roadblocks in the way ever since.
"And so it was thanks to their incessant stalling and delay tactics that it took months for bargaining to get underway in the first place, and now that we are finally at the table they are simply refusing to engage in meaningful discussions about the most important issues. Through five days of bargaining they've brought absolutely nothing of substance to the table."
Contracts for most of Ontario's education sector workers expired on Aug. 31 and negotiations are at various stages. Bischof said voting will begin on Oct. 22 and finish on Nov. 15.
"As families across our province know, strike action disproportionately hurts our kids, especially the most vulnerable in our classrooms," Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement.
"My message to our labour partners is to always put kids first, and continue to work with us in good faith to make sure kids remain in class each and every day."
OSSTF has 60,000 members across the province, including public high school teachers, occasional teachers, educational assistants and more.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford's government managed to reach a last-minute deal earlier this month to avert a strike by school support workers.
That tentative agreement with CUPE's 55,000 education workers saw the province dole out an extra $100 million a year as part of the deal, including new funding for support staff jobs and a wage increase.
Finance Minister Rod Phillips has said that the province plans to stick to its plan to cap public sector wage increases as it enters key contract talks with teachers.
The OSSTF has said it's not interested in accepting the government's wage increase cap and has proposed a "cost-of-living adjustment" based on a formula linked to the Consumer Price Index. The current rate of that increase would come in around two per cent but that could change if the economy sputters, the union argues.
Earlier this year, the government ordered school boards to start increasing class sizes, moving to an average for high school from 22 to 28 students over four years. Class sizes for Grades 4 to 8 will increase by one student per classroom, from 23 to 24.
Ontario's Financial Accountability Officer has said the move would see 10,000 fewer teachers in the public school system over the next five years.
With files from The Canadian Press