Public high schools across Ontario closed Wednesday as teachers hold one-day strike
Codi Wilson, CP24.com
Published Wednesday, December 4, 2019 6:33AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 4, 2019 7:13PM EST
High schools across Ontario were closed on Wednesday as the union representing public secondary school teachers holds a one-day strike.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) confirmed that the strike would go ahead as planned after the province and union failed to broker a deal by the midnight deadline.
The strike comes after the launch of a work-to-rule campaign that saw teachers refusing to put comments on report cards, not participating in standardized testing, and not taking part in unpaid staff meetings outside school hours.
Despite Education Minister Stephen Lecce assertion that wages are the primary sticking point, OSSTF President Harvey Bischof told CP24 on Wednesday morning that the union has serious concerns about the quality of education.
"He (Lecce) has been saying at times that it is singularly about compensation. We have significant quality of education issues that are coming between us," Bischof said.
"The minister still wants to raise class sizes from the current 22.5 to 25 and he calls that an improvement. He still wants to go from the current zero e-learning courses to two and he calls that an improvement. Those aren’t improvements. Those are erosions of the quality of education."
The province and union also cannot agree on appropriate compensation for teachers. The Ontario government has passed a bill to cap wage increases for all public-sector workers at 1 per cent, however high school teachers are looking for a two per cent increase to account for inflation.
Bischof said the province's legislation "interferes with free collective bargaining."
The union president added that he is "disappointed" in the way Lecce has handled negotiations, including his suggestion yesterday that a new deal had been proposed.
"I sent my bargaining team back the mediator and I said, ‘Did we miss something? Was there a new proposal?' The mediator said categorically no. There was no new proposal… by the end of the day, the minister was walking back his statement saying it wasn’t a proposal at all," Bischof said.
In an interview with CP24 on Wednesday morning, Lecce called the one-day strike "unacceptable."
"To the parents of this province, I find it absolutely unacceptable that their children are not in class this morning. We have been consistently focused on keeping them in class, being as reasonable as possible. The fact is on compensation, this is the fundamental issue," he said.
"I value our educators. These are good people… the fact is educators in Ontario are the second-highest compensated in the nation. They are high paid, they are well paid, and we value they contribution to public service, but at the end of the day, we are offering one per cent. It is a reasonable constructive approach."
Lecce has blamed the union for a lack of significant progress since bargaining began more than 200 days ago and questioned their decision to hold a strike before "utilizing every tool in the toolkit."
"If you stand with kids, if you support the future of their education, I find it very curious to walk out on them for a day or for any period of time," he said. "That doesn’t actually aid children’s education."
As a result of the strike, hundreds of thousands of public high school students will not be in the classroom today, including students at GTA high schools in the Toronto District School Board, the York Region District School Board, the Peel District School Board, the Halton District School Board, and the Durham District School Board.
The OSSTF also represents educational support workers in some parts of the province which means while most elementary schools are not impacted by the strike, elementary schools in the Waterloo Region District Board and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board will close Wednesday.
‼️In case you missed it‼️ @OSSTF has confirmed that its members will go on strike today for one day. All #WRDSB elementary and high schools will be CLOSED to students due to the withdrawal of services. Schools will reopen for students on December 5.— Waterloo Region DSB (@wrdsb) December 4, 2019
MORE: https://t.co/K1woHP5VgA pic.twitter.com/Uly7qg0zq9
TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said the school board has tried to take a "proactive" approach to make sure there are no surprises for parents.
"I think everyone wants there to be a deal… but obviously we have no other option but to make contingency plans," he said.
Picket lines have been set up at schools and constituency offices across the GTA.
Speaking at a picket line outside Premier Doug Ford's constituency office, Bischof was asked if any further strike action is planned.
"We are going have to see where the government goes," he said. "This has to be in response to the government’s actions."
While teachers will return to the classroom on Thursday, Bischof added that members will continue with the current work-to-rule campaign.
"We are not going to allow this government to try to pay off the deficit on the backs of the students that we currently have in the school system," Bischof said. "That is not just to take that approach."