Public high school teachers in Toronto and eight other districts across Ontario are scheduled to walk off the job Wednesday amid deadlocked negotiations with the province on a new collective agreement.

The one-day strike comes one week after Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) members held a similar one-day strike that resulted in the province-wide closure of schools.

No bargaining was planned for today, though the OSSTF has previously offered to delay the one-day strike in exchange for the province removing a number of legislated preconditions.

While the two sides failed to talk to each other Tuesday, they did spar in the public eye.

Accepting the terms of an offer made by Ontario’s public high school teachers in labour talks with the province and extending them to all other education workers could cost taxpayers $3 billion more per year by 2022, the Ford government said.

On Tuesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office released the terms of an offer made by the OSSTF during bargaining rounds on Nov. 28 and Dec. 1, saying it would cost taxpayers far more than what his office previously estimated.

In the offer, the government says, the union did not just ask for cost-of-living salary increases, an end to mandatory e-learning and reverting class size averages to where they were during the last years of the Wynne government; but also wanted to improve sick time language, provide eight weeks of paid paternity leave, and add hundreds of millions more in funding for education support workers.

“I just think it is important for those data points to be publicized – I am not commenting on the merits of them,” Lecce said of releasing the OSSTF offer.

Speaking on background, education officials said that if accepted by the government, some of the requests would automatically be given to the other education unions currently negotiating with the government, such as Catholic teachers or public English elementary teachers, through what is called a “me-too clause” found in most labour agreements in the sector.

The officials would not confirm exactly what is and what is not covered by a “me-too clause.”

But Lecce suggested at least wages would be covered.

“With CUPE (support workers) there is a ‘me-too’clause – if the compensation is above one per cent, let’s say two, then the ‘me-too’clause lifts them to two,” Lecce said.

Even in areas not covered by a me-too clause, it is plausible that what is granted to one union will be asked for by the others.

Altogether, the ministry estimates the offer would increase costs in the education sector as a whole by $1.7 billion this year, $2.35 billion next year and $2.98 billion by 2021-2022, for a total of approximately $7 billion.

The figure is nearly double what Lecce has said granting teachers and education workers a two per cent per year wage increase and maintaining their benefits for the next three years would cost.

Speaking after Lecce, OSSTF President Harvey Bischof said he was baffled about how he could be blamed for costs incurred by unions not connected to his.

“It applies for the whole education sector who we don’t negotiate for.”

He said that Lecce’s continued mention of his members’ pay was an attempt to demonize them.

“It concerns me very much that his priority right now is to demonize my members, including my support staff who on average make $38,000 per year, and instead of taking that into consideration, is trying to inflame the rhetoric in a very unhelpful way.”

Lecce responded that the nature of public sector bargaining in Ontario means Bischof doesn’t operate in a vacuum.

“They choose not to consider the impacts outside of OSSTF, as if they live inisolation from the other education unions, and you know from negotiating that (two per cent) would become the floor.”

Bischof also said he had no idea how the Ford government had arrived at the $3 billion per year figure.

Bischof has said that some of the major stumbling blocks in negotiations have included the province’s refusal to abandon plans to raise class sizes and to introduce mandatory E-learning courses in high schools.

Lecce, however, has said that the dispute has mostly revolved around the union’s opposition to accepting an annual one per cent wage hike.

Neither Bischof nor Lecce had previously disclosed other OSSTF bargaining asks made public Tuesday, such as paternity leave or improved sick time provisions.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath said Tuesday that the latest figures from the Ford government are farcical.

“Mr. Lecce’s moving numbers are meant to confuse and worry people.”

Education support union EWAO reaches deal

Also on Tuesday a union that represents education assistants and other support workers in Halton, Dufferin-Peel and all throughout the French system said they had reached a deal with the province.

The Educational Workers’ Alliance of Ontario represents approximately 6,000 employees in the provincial school system.

The OSSTF says high school teachers in these boards will walk off the job if a deal is not reached by Wednesday:

  • Toronto District School Board
  • Simcoe County District School Board
  • Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board
  • Grand Erie District School Board
  • Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board
  • Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board
  • Near North District School Board
  • Rainy River District School Board
  • Trillium Lakelands District School Board

As with last week’s strike, the TDSB said the job action would mean that all TDSB schools are closed to students.

“As with the walkout that took place last week, if this job action commences as expected, the Board will have no other option but to close all secondary schools (Grades 9 to 12) to students on Wednesday, December 11 as there would not be sufficient supervision to ensure their safety,” the TDSB said on its website.

All affected schools are expected to reopen on Thursday.