Ontario high school teachers have joined their elementary counterparts in voting overhwlemingly in favour of a strike.
The Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation voted 95.5 per cent of in support of a walkout, bringing a potential strike one step closer.
The union is now in legal strike position, but have not yet given the five day notice required before strike.
The English Catholic board has also voted in favour of a strike, but have not taken any legal action enabling them to strike.
These developments put three of Ontario’s four major teachers’s unions in position for potential strikes as they negotiate for new contracts, joining the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) in bargaining with the Ontario government.
The ETFO voted 98 per cent of in favour of job action if outstanding issues with the provincial government are not resolved.
The union is currently in a legal strike position for Nov. 25 after receiving a “no board report” from the minister of labour, which enforces a seventeen-day cooling off period after conciliatory efforts have failed, before a legal strike can take place.
Stephen Lecce, Education Minister, stated that union strike action creates uncertainty for parents and teachers, and could lead to school disruptions and closures.
Sam Hammond, ETFO president responded through a crowd address at a rally.
“Premier Ford and his Education Minister are very fond of saying that they want kids to be in school. Well, so do ETFO’s 83,000 members but it seems that only teachers and education professionals – not this government – are concerned with quality.”
ETFO says that the strike will not have an affect on students, as teachers will continue teaching throughout the strike.
ETFO members are being told not to complete first term report cards, participate in school board activities, or communicate with the ministry outside school hours.
However, ETFO says its job action will be incremental and further action may be necessary if a deal is not reached.
Hammond said that the Ford government is demanding an additional $150 million in cuts from elementary education.
“Is funding for students with special needs to be sacrificed to meet the government’s goal to cut costs? Class sizes have increased.
Teaching and support staff positions have already been lost because this government wants to cut, not invest, in public education,” said Hammond.
In addition to the cuts, ETFO members want a variety of issues addressed.
“It’s critical that they finally come to contract talks prepared to address the real issues of concern: more supports for students with special needs, the protection of Ontario’s kindergarten program and critical issues like addressing violence in schools,” said Hammond.
ETFO has put forward proposals for these concerns and received evasive non-answers in response from the government’s side, according to Hammond.
“It’s unfortunate that this is the only way we can get the government and school board associations to address these critical issues and maintain Ontario’s world-class public education system.”
Lecce disputed the union’s characterization of the talks, and said the province has been reasonable and constructive during bargaining.
“It is disappointing that ETFO has decided to escalate to a partial withdrawal of services, which hurts our kids, despite a limited number of outstanding items at the table,” he said in a news statement.
“Our team remains unequivical in our determination to land deals with our labour partners as soon as possible to keep kids in the classroom.”
Lecce also stated that contrary to how all of the province’s education unions are framing the talks, compensation is a major issue, and the union is looking for 2 per cent wage increases.
Hammond responded strongly when asked if the ETFO was seeking a wage raise.
“That’s exactly what the Minister is trying to do — distract from the real issues at the table,” Hammond said. “We haven’t even started talking about salary at the table.”
Post secondary students also face cuts under the Ford government.
Spending on post-secondary education and training is projected to decrease from $12.1 billion in 2018 to $11.7 billion at the end of the conservative term, for an average drop of one per cent annually.
ETFO says money from education funding is being used to cover deficits.
“We now know that this government inflated the province’s deficit by more than $7 billion to justify its massive cuts to public services including public education,” ETFO said in a media release. “Doug Ford and his Minister of Education Stephen Lecce are asking students, particularly those who are most vulnerable, to pay a steep price for their cuts.”With the five days left before ETFO can legally strike, ETFO is continuing to work toward an agreement.
The last full province-wide teachers’ strike was in 1997 and lasted two weeks, and was similarly fuelled by outrage over cuts to education by the government under Mike Harris.