Ontario public high school teachers launch one-day strike amid stagnant talks
Joshua Freeman, CP24.com
Published Tuesday, December 3, 2019 2:48PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 4, 2019 5:42AM EST
Hundreds of thousands of public high school students will be out of classrooms in Ontario on Wednesday as their teachers take part in a one-day strike amid months of fruitless negotiations between the union and the province.
The one-day strike comes after the two sides failed to make any headway by a midnight deadline, though the union said earlier that a deal was unlikely.
“In the absence of any other announcement, in the absence of any update, prepare for a strike tomorrow,” Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation President Harvey Bischof told reporters at around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night.
Speaking from the downtown Toronto hotel where negotiations have been taking place between the province and the union, Bischof said the government has not put forward any meaningful proposals that would avert a strike and that the “odds are slim” that they would do so before the midnight deadline.
His announcement came moments after a hastily-called media availability by Education Minister Stephen Lecce at the same hotel. Speaking to reporters, Lecce blamed the union for a lack of any meaningful progress in negotiations and called on the OSSTF to cancel their planned strike.
“It has been over 200 days since we first started bargaining with OSSTF and in that time they have not made any substantive moves since their first proposal was tabled,” Lecce said.
Responding, Bischof told CP24 that teachers are feeling “extremely let down.”
“We came here with hope on Saturday morning that we could move forward,” Bischof said. “In four days the government made not a single proposal of any sort whatsoever in order to move negotiations forward and now a couple of hours before a strike deadline the minister once again gets to a podium not to advance the interests of negotiations, not to advance the interests of Ontario’s students, but to pull essentially another stunt.”
CP24 cameras caught the OSSTF negotiating team walking out of the hotel boardroom at midnight. In a tweet, the union said they never saw the provincial team.
Earlier in the day, Lecce said that he had presented the teachers with a new “framework” for negotiations.
“We have today through our mediators offered a new framework that we believe in our estimation will keep them at the table,” Lecce said.
However the OSSTF said there had been no communication from the province since yesterday afternoon.
“This process is nothing but frustrating. In 20 years doing this kind of work, I’ve never seen anything like it,” OSSTF President Harvey Bischof said.
Bischof said that the province has brought “nothing” to the table in negotiations.
Wages, class sizes and proposed mandatory e-learning classes are some of the issues that have been sticking points in the negotiations.
The government had previously announced plans to increase the average high school class size to 28 from 22. The province has since said that they would agree to a less drastic increase of 25 students per class.
The government has recently passed legislation to cap wage increases for all public-sector workers, however high school teachers are looking for increases to account for inflation – around two per cent.
Parents and community members held a rally outside of the hotel to support the teachers Tuesday evening.
Prior to the announcement of the planned one-day strike, teachers were already engaged in a work-to-rule campaign which entailed not putting comments on report cards, not participating in standardized testing, and not taking part in unpaid staff meetings outside school hours.
Lecce has blamed the union for “escalating” tensions between the two sides.
The province’s public high school teachers have been without a contract since August.
Strike means schools across the GTA will be closed Wednesday
A number of school boards have said that if the one-day strike proceeds, then schools will be closed to students on Wednesday.
“Should there be a walkout on December 4, the TDSB would have no other option but to close all secondary schools to students as there would not be sufficient supervision to ensure their safety,” the Toronto District School Board said in a tweet. “This would include all TDSB secondary schools, Adult Day Schools and Secondary Night Schools.”
The TDSB said any field trips or other out-of-school activities would also be cancelled and urged parents and caregivers to make alternate arrangements for their kids.
School boards in York, Peel and Durham regions have also said that secondary schools will be closed to students should there be a strike.
In some parts of the province where the OSSTF also represents educational support workers, the strike would mean that elementary schools are also closed. Those areas include the Waterloo Region District School Board and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.
The OSSTF said teachers will return to the classroom on Thursday, December 5.
- With files from The Canadian Press