After OSSTF accepts proposal to avoid strike, Lecce urges other teachers' unions to do the same
Published Thursday, September 28, 2023 11:45AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, September 28, 2023 11:45AM EDT
Ontario’s minister of education is urging three of the province’s four major teachers’ unions to sign an agreement that will avert future strikes and see outstanding issues at the bargaining table sent to binding arbitration.
Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce made the comments at a news conference on Thursday morning, one day after the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), the union representing English, public high school teachers in the province, signed off on a plan to avoid a strike.
On Wednesday, nearly 80 per cent of OSSTF members voted in favour of a deal with the government to continue contract talks until Oct. 27 before sending any remaining items to an arbitrator. This deal means that the union will not take strike action while trying to hammer out the details of its latest collective agreement.
“A high school student that started last year will graduate in three years without the risk of a strike. This is a huge achievement for 400,000 students and their families,” Lecce said Thursday.
“I think the greatest beneficiary of this deal, of the union, the school board, and the government coming together, are kids and I want to do the same for every child.”
He urged the other three unions, including the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA), the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), and The Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), to “end the delay” and ink agreements similar to the one signed by the OSSTF.
“We need them to work with us as OSSTF has done in this case to endorse a deal and a frame that provides stability,” Lecce said.
“We now have one on the table that has been overwhelmingly ratified by nearly 8 in 10 members. The people of Ontario support this proposal. The membership of one of the largest unions supports this proposal. And so therefore we would reasonably expect the other unions to work with us quickly, end the delay. Let’s sign a deal that keeps these kids in school.”
The other unions have already rejected the province’s proposal to send outstanding issues to binding arbitration.
OECTA is holding strike votes on Oct. 18 and 19 and ETFO will hold in-person strike votes for its members from now until Oct. 17.
Lecce confirmed that the agreement for binding arbitration that was signed by the OSSTF is “fundamentally” what was offered to the other teachers’ unions.
“If this deal is acceptable for public high school English teachers, then it begs the question why wouldn’t it be good enough for public elementary English teachers or any other union for that matter,” Lecce asked.
Lecce confirmed Thursday that the deal with the OSSTF includes a “remedy” for Bill 124. The legislation capped wage increases for many public sector employees, including teachers, at one per cent per year over a three-year period and last year, the bill was declared unconstitutional. Arbitrated settlements involving unions from other sectors, including health care, have resulted in employees receiving additional compensation for time worked while the legislation was in effect.
In a joint statement released last month, ETFO, OECTA, and AEFO said entering into binding arbitration “would not support students” and it would “all but guarantee” that key issues brought forward at their respective bargaining tables “would not be addressed.”
“The Ford Conservative government has continually refused to engage in substantive discussions with our unions, despite our many attempts to make progress at our respective bargaining tables,” the statement, released on Aug. 25, read.
“We once again call on the government to respect our right to free and fair collective bargaining, and come to our bargaining tables prepared to engage in meaningful discussions about critical issues facing publicly funded education in Ontario – issues such as increased violence in schools, resources and supports for student mental health, teachers’ use of professional judgement, and addressing the teacher shortage.”
A tentative agreement with the 3,500 education workers represented by ETFO was reached last week and the union is currently working to schedule a ratification vote.