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Union leaders set to urge high-school teachers to ratify deal

Ken Coran, middle, President of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) speaks to media outside Queen's Park in Toronto on Sept. 11, 2012

Kevin Van Paasse/The Globe and Mai

Union leaders for Ontario's public high-school teachers will be working hard to sell their membership on an agreement reached with the province in the hopes of bringing labour peace to secondary schools.

The Liberal government caught school boards off guard Sunday when it revealed that negotiations with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation were successful. Details of the deal are under a media blackout.

The agreement will be presented to local presidents on Thursday and then be subject to an all-member vote.

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"It's a different set of conditions. I believe it's very much better than the previous [contract], the one that was imposed," Ken Coran, president of OSSTF, said Monday. "But it will be up to members to determine if that will be the case."

Getting members to ratify agreements proved difficult a few months back. In November, high-school teachers in York Region and Niagara district school boards voted against deals bargained by local union leaders and school boards, and approved by the Ministry of Education. OSSTF leaders were blindsided by a grassroots movement that warned teachers against ratifying the deal for fear of compromising a court challenge of Bill 115, a controversial piece of legislation that imposed the terms of their contracts.

The new agreement is expected to work within the fiscal parameters of those legislated contract terms. The legislation imposed a 1.5-per-cent pay cut in the form of three unpaid professional development days, sliced teachers' annual sick days down from 20 to 11, and removed their ability to bank those sick days for a cashout upon retirement.

Mr. Coran said unlike the previous round of bargaining under former premier Dalton McGuinty, talks with the new Liberal leadership were collaborative.

"There was problem-solving, there was an understanding of the impact of decisions," Mr. Coran said. "It was done with the understanding that the fiscal parameters are there, and it was also done with the understanding that there were components of the imposed working conditions that we thought could be changed with just looking at things in different ways."

High-school union leaders signalled an end to the withdrawal of extracurriculars in February because of progress in talks with Premier Kathleen Wynne's government.

Talks are ongoing with the elementary teachers union. Union leaders last week advised members to restore extracurricular activities in time for the spring sports season, Grade 8 graduations and end-of-year field trips.

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Teachers began political protests in September when the Liberal government introduced legislation that dictated the terms of their contracts. Teachers stopped voluntary activities such as leading clubs or sports teams and offering extra help after school. The Ontario Liberals chose a new leader in January and talks between both unions and the government resumed under the new premier. Those talks have focused on protecting teachers' bargaining rights by revamping, and possibly legislating, the negotiations process.

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Education Reporter

Caroline Alphonso is an education reporter for The Globe and Mail. More

Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

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