With the deadline for strike action just three days away, the president of Ontario’s high school teacher association says his members are angry and ready to withdraw services.
Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation president Ken Coran said Saturday that seven public school boards, including Toronto’s, will be in a legal strike position Wednesday and unless the province, school boards and union leaders can reach a deal teachers will begin withdrawing services. (Most of the remaining 24 public boards could also be in a legal strike position before the end of the month.) Mr. Coran called the job action, which looks nearly inevitable at this point, a “sort of administrative strike” as the types of services teachers will stop providing include attending staff meetings, supervising students outside the classroom and answering parent e-mails outside of school hours.
“The level of seriousness has escalated,” he said. “Our members are fed up.”
Some teachers have been withholding voluntary services, things like coaching sports teams and supervising clubs, since the second week of school, when the Ontario government legislated the terms of their contract through Bill 115. Teachers took issue with the bill because it imposed cuts to their sick days, a partial freeze to pay raises for new teachers and restricted their ability to strike.
The government, however, has said it would be reluctant to use those powers to block a strike before Dec. 31st, the deadline the legislation sets for bargaining.
The unions have launched a court challenge of Bill 115, saying it violates their rights to collective bargaining. If the government were to block a strike before the bargaining deadline, it could help the unions’ legal case.
Negotiations between OSSTF and the province fell apart in the Spring, but Mr. Coran said he had a “hopeful” meeting with the Minister of Education a little over a week ago. His union has proposed creating a provincial benefits plan for educators and allowing unions to take over the financial liabilities, a move Mr. Coran said could save $419-million and could help the province recover from a $15-billion deficit.
A spokeswoman for the ministry, Paris Meilleur, confirmed that a provincial plan was being discussed, and said the ministry is waiting for data on potential savings.
The discussions between OSSTF and the ministry represent progress, but they are unlikely to be settled before the Nov. 7th deadline.
Mr. Coran said active negotiations are also continuing between as many as six union bargaining units and their local school boards, but that represents just a small fraction of the 31 public boards that have yet to reach a deal.
French and Catholic teachers signed a deal with the province over the summer which formed the basis of the contract terms spelled out in Bill 115. That agreement cut sick days down from 20 days to 10, and removed the ability to bank unused sick days. It also delayed experience-based pay raises for younger teachers, which won’t take effect until later in the school year, and gave the government some powers to stop teachers from going on strike or school boards from locking them out.
In interviews since he announced he would resign as Premier, Dalton McGuinty has said he regrets the way that his government has handled this round of negotiations and has suggested that he probably should have taken a less heavy-handed approach.