TORONTO — Thousands of Ontario public high school teachers will be off the job Wednesday for a one-day strike after failing to reach a contract with the province.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation confirmed the job action, setting the stage for potentially hundreds of schools across the province to shut their doors for the day.
Harvey Bischof, president of the federation, said the Ford government did not put forward any constructive proposals through the negotiation process.
“After midnight we have not reached an agreement and so the strike is officially on,” he said.
“OSSTF education workers & teachers will be back in schools Thursday. We remain ready to negotiate.”
On Tuesday night, Education Minister Stephen Lecce asked the union to remain at the bargaining table, saying his bargaining team had presented a new “framework” to the union in a bid to keep all parties at the table.
The union announced last week that teachers could walk off the job in order to turn up the pressure during tense labour negotiations with the Progressive Conservative government.
The teachers are already conducting a work-to-rule campaign and say they are pushing back against government plans to increase class sizes and introduce mandatory e-learning courses.
“While we sympathize absolutely with students and parents facing disruption and anxiety, a single day strike doesn’t come close to the kind of disruption this government will wreak on the education system if they’re allowed to go forward with their destructive proposals,” Bischof said.
The strike will call political attention to the cuts that this government has already imposed and wants to impose further, he said.
“We have seen this government change direction when faced with political opposition and so that’s our intention,” Bischof said.
Some of the province’s largest school boards have said they will be forced to close their high schools because of the job action.
At some boards where the union represents both teachers and education workers, both high schools and elementary schools will close.
Ontario’s public high school teachers have been without a contract since August.
Lecce said the main issue in the talks is compensation, with the government recently passing legislation to cap annual wage increases for all public sector workers at one per cent for three years. The union is asking for inflationary increases, which would amount to about two per cent.
Bischof dismissed the claim that compensation is the main issue as “outrageous.”
The minister said the government remains ready to bargain, but did not provide any further details of the new framework apparently offered on Tuesday.
Lecce said the teachers’ union is choosing to escalate the talks and said governments of all political stripes have faced similar challenges over the past few decades.
But former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, who also once served as education minister, said the Progressive Conservatives made cuts to classrooms ahead of bargaining, hurting the government’s relationship with teachers.
“It’s been more than 20 years since there’s been a province-wide job action by OSSTF,” she said. “I think that speaks volumes. The last province-wide job action was under the (Progressive Conservative) Mike Harris government. The fact is, it’s not the same. This government declared war on teachers and support staff.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she knows the potential labour disruption will affect parents who are forced to find other child-care arrangements, but she thinks overall parents are more upset with the government.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner also said he thinks parents agree with teachers taking the job action.
“If the government would reverse their cuts then we could have a good faith negotiation around salaries,” Schreiner said. “The government is trying to use compensation as a way to deflect from the real cuts to education.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2019.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press