The union representing Ontario public high school teachers says its members will hold a one-day strike on Wednesday if there isn’t a new collective agreement reached with the province by that time.
“This week we began a job action carefully devised to have no impact on students,” said OSSTF/FEESO President Harvey Bischof. “It’s clear from these past two days of bargaining, however, that our action is having no impact on the tone or substance of negotiation.”
“Through months of bargaining, the management team has avoided any meaningful discussion of class size, staffing, mandatory e-learning, or any other issue that impacts the quality of student learning,” Bischof said.
“The erosion of education is happening now,” he continued at a news conference announcing the single-day strike. “We can’t wait any longer for this to continue. We have been driven to this action.”
Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce responded to the tentative walkout Thursday.
“Strikes hurt kids … For teacher unions to leave the table, to turn their back on our children, and to escalate to the point of compromising their education, is deeply troubling for parents and our government,” he said, adding the OSSTF had not accepted any additional negotiation dates.
“They’ve yet to commit to deescalating the situation,” he said.
Premier Doug Ford said he has confidence that Lecce can get a deal with the teachers.
“We’re doing everything we can to strike a deal and I think we’ve shown good faith,” he said.
The one-day strike will come after six days of information pickets and a limited withdrawal of administrative services which began Tuesday.
Bischof said he understands the walkout will cause disruption for students and parents but said it was something they had to do in the “long-term interests of the students” which he said are being compromised by the Ford government.
Bischof said the union has never left the table, contrary to what the government has said.
Ford refused to say if he’ll use back-to-work legislation if teachers walk-off the job for more than one day. He said that would be something he’d need to discuss with Lecce.
When asked the same question directly, Lecce said he wants to use every available option to “keep kids in class through a mediated settlement.”
He added he remains “modestly optimistic” a deal can still be done.
Ontario NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles issued a statement Thursday urging Ford to reverse his cuts to education, saying they have hurt students and families.
“He never should have brought us to this point,” she said. “Instead of picking a fight with educators and forcing them to fight to protect public education in Ontario, Doug Ford should listen to parents who say that schools need more caring adults in classrooms, not less.”
She echoed that sentiment in a press conference after Lecce spoke to media.
“I think the government knows exactly what needs to happen to keep our kids in school.”
In the spring, the government announced they would be increasing class sizes from 22 to 28 in high schools over a four-year period. However, in late October it was announced they offered to cap the increase to 25 instead.
The government also dropped mandatory online courses from the original suggestion of four down to two.
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.
The four major teachers’ unions have all expressed frustration with what they say has been a lack of progress at the bargaining table with the province.
Elementary teachers also started an administrative work-to-rule campaign this week.
The Catholic teachers’ union has talks scheduled Friday involving a conciliator, and French teachers will hold strike votes next month.
—With files from The Canadian Press
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