TORONTO – High school teachers and educational workers in Ontario turned up the pressure on the Progressive Conservative government on Tuesday as cracks continued to emerge in their contentious contract talks with the province.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation took the rare step of publicly releasing its bargaining proposals, saying it hopes the move will make negotiations more transparent.
Union president Harvey Bischof said the Tory government has not been bargaining in good faith and has used procedural delays to slow negotiations.
“This government has rigged the system from the outset,” he said. “They’ve had their thumb on the scale since before negotiations began. We’re going to take a different approach. One that puts transparency at the heart of our negotiations.”
Bischof said the union’s proposals include a request to roll back class size increases announced earlier this year and to link annual teacher pay raises to the consumer price index.
The proposals also include a request to examine e-learning before moving ahead with a plan to make students take online courses in order to graduate.
Meanwhile, CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, which represents custodians, clerical workers and early childhood educators, said it was considering a job action that could see them stop working overtime or perform any extra duties.
Laura Walton said the work-to-rule campaign may be needed to pressure the government and school boards into reaching a fair agreement.
“My grandmother always said people don’t notice what you do until you stop doing it,” said Laura Walton, president of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions.
“It’s time for the government and trustees’ association to realize we’ve been cutting and cutting and cutting, and we just can’t cut any further.”
Last week, the union voted 93 per cent in favour of job action, putting them in a legal strike position on Monday, Sept. 30.
WATCH: Canadian Union of Public Employees warns Ford’s education cuts will impact all Ontario students (Sept. 3, 2019)
Contracts for Ontario’s public school teachers and education workers expired Aug. 31, and the major unions are in various stages of bargaining. The talks are happening as the government has ordered school boards to start increasing class sizes, moving to an average for high school from 22 to 28 over four years. Class sizes for grades 4 to 8 will increase by one student per classroom, from 23 to 24.
The government has said that will mean 3,475 fewer teachers in the system over four years, which will be accomplished by not filling vacancies when teachers quit or retire.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said his negotiation team will continue to meet with OSSTF and urged CUPE to return to the bargaining table.
“I have stated consistently for months now, I want to reach a deal that provides predictability and certainty to students, parents and educators,” he said.
NDP education critic Marit Stiles said the government could still avoid a labour disruption in the province’s schools.
“If (Premier) Doug Ford was not continuing to move forward with his very deep cuts to education, cuts to classrooms, cuts that are affecting our students and our families, then we would not be here today,” she said.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said he supports the province’s education workers as they push back against cuts made to the school system.
“Although the premier campaigned as if he would simply trim the fat, his cuts are digging into the bone, which is a direct threat to the quality of education in Ontario,” Schreiner said in a statement.
© 2019 The Canadian Press