Toronto's high school teachers want the city's school board to subsidize the salaries of 10 union staff members at a cost of almost $500,000 – the main stumbling block to reaching a deal on a collective agreement, The Globe and Mail has learned.
While there is a perception of labour peace in the education sector, the dispute between the Toronto District School Board and the local district of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation is one of 240 cases, out of 473, across the province where a local agreement has not been reached.
The provincial Liberal government once praised its new tiered bargaining structure as "innovative." But it has been fraught with delays and confusion.
A TDSB source said the OSSTF wants the board to contribute to the salaries of 10 union staff members, even though the elementary teachers' union, which has twice as many members, has only eight board-subsidized positions.
Union staff positions are generally filled by education workers who take a leave to work in the union office. They receive their regular teaching salaries, partly subsidized by school boards. The TDSB source said the board is looking to reduce the number of OSSTF staff members whose salaries it subsidizes, currently the highest number in the province.
"We have been trying to sit back down at the table with OSSTF. However, they refuse to come back to the table unless we subsidize 10 union positions," the source said. "That's the sticking point."
Toronto's public high school teachers have been without a contract since the fall of 2014. They have since withdrawn some administrative services, such as attending some staff meetings.
Doug Jolliffe, president of the Toronto district of the OSSTF, said the TDSB has had a long-standing agreement to subsidize the salaries of union staff members. He acknowledged that there are 10 members on the executive.
"They're trying to change what has already been in place for 16 years," he said, adding: "We're not talking about any extra money."
The TDSB declined to comment on details of the negotiations, saying they are confidential. The board is dealing with declining enrolment and staff reductions to trim costs.
"The last time we held formal negotiations with OSSTF was in late December with the help of a mediator. Since then, the board has tried to reach out to the union on a number of occasions through a mediator, but to no avail," TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird said.
This type of standoff between school boards and education unions is playing out across the province under the Liberal's new and controversial bargaining structure. Ontario uses a two-step process, in which larger matters such as salaries are negotiated between the government and central unions, while smaller issues are settled between individual school boards and union locals.
The Liberal government has reached central deals with all of the province's education unions, but not before a tough round of negotiations during which the public high school teachers' union held strikes at school boards in the Toronto area and Northern Ontario, and the government legislated the teachers back to work.
A spokeswoman for Education Minister Liz Sandals said that, "based on reports from school boards," there are still 240 local unions out of 473 that have not yet reached deals.
Asked for a list of the unions that have not reached agreements, Ms. Sandals's spokeswoman, Nicole McInerney, said in an e-mail that the "government is not a party to local bargaining" and said to contact the province's school boards for all outstanding deals.
The current contracts are for a three-year period, and are set to expire at the end of the August, 2017.
Some education observers worry that all local deals may not be hammered out by that time. Some are concerned that issues being brought to the local school-board tables should have been dealt with by the provincial government at the central table.
The TDSB has reached deals with all its education unions, except for high school teachers.