Ontario’s high-school teachers and education workers will hold another one-day strike next week targeting select boards across the province, including the Toronto District School Board.
This action follows a daylong walkout by Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation members earlier this week – the first provincewide strike in more than two decades.
Harvey Bischof, president of OSSTF, which represents 60,000 members, said the targeted strike on Wednesday would hit every corner of the province. He said that contract negotiations with the government have stalled.
“We’re trying to balance the need to draw attention to the cuts the government has imposed and wants to deepen, while at the same time minimizing the disruption … for students and families,” he said on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the province’s largest education union with 83,000 members, also told its members in a memo on Friday that the union would escalate its work-to-rule campaign next week, including not planning any new field trips or collecting money for school-based activities, except charitable causes.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce condemned OSSTF’s new job action, saying his government has been reasonable and the teachers continue to insist on a 2-per-cent wage hike – which is at the rate of inflation but double the 1 per cent they have been offered.
“If they do not [get their wage demands], they will walk out on their kids. I am saying that is unacceptable,” Mr. Lecce said.
The government recently walked back some of its proposals. Mr. Lecce said high-school students would be required to take two online courses to graduate instead of the province’s initial plan of four. Recently, Mr. Lecce also softened the government’s stand on increasing class sizes in high schools to an average of 25 instead of the previous goal of 28 over four years. The current average is 22.5.
Mr. Lecce would not say whether he would pull both of those demands off the table to get a deal. The government offered at least $100-million to settle a deal with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents education support workers, including caretakers and educational assistants, earlier this fall. (CUPE agreed to a 1-per-cent wage hike, but was also given a clause that would allow it to benefit if other education unions win higher increases.)
“I have been honest that I am open to innovative options to get us to a deal,” Mr. Lecce said, arguing the teachers should suggest some of those options and dismissing what he said was a union proposal to scrap the province’s standardized testing regime. “We have not seen any move [by the teachers] on the 1 per cent.”
Along with the Toronto District School Board high schools, OSSTF members will also walk out of eight other boards: the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District; Grand Erie District School Board; Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board; Near North District School Board; Rainy River District School Board; Simcoe County District School Board; Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board; and Trillium Lakelands District School Board. Several French schools that have OSSTF members will also be affected by the strike on Wednesday.
NDP education critic Marit Stiles said Mr. Lecce needs to scrap his government’s plans to cut costs by increasing class sizes and forcing students to take courses online, and instead focus on negotiating a fair deal.
“It’s this government that brought in these cuts,” Ms. Stiles said. “Nobody wants it. Parents don’t want it, students don’t want it, educators don’t want it and our community isn’t asking for this.”
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