It was just over a week ago that educational support workers with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) reached a new deal and cancelled a pending strike with just a few hours to spare. If you thought it would mean peace in the schools from here on out, think again, because now the high school teachers of the province are making rumblings.
A statement released by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) Tuesday afternoon said that they were sick of the delays from the Ontario government, and that they’ve seen no indication of meaningful discussions taking place. Because of that, the OSSTF will now start to conduct strike votes with their locals across the province.
“But from the beginning they have done nothing to help expedite the process, and now they are simply refusing to discuss substantive issues at the bargaining table,” said OSSTF President Harvey Bischof in the media statement. “They delayed the start of bargaining by two months and have thrown procedural roadblocks in the way ever since.”
“And so it was thanks to their incessant stalling and delay tactics that it took months for bargaining to get underway in the first place, and now that we are finally at the table they are simply refusing to engage in meaningful discussions about the most important issues,” he added. “Through five days of bargaining they’ve brought absolutely nothing of substance to the table.”
The OSSTF represents 60,000 members across Ontario, including high school teachers, occasional teachers, and educational assistants. They’ve been working without a contract since August 31.
“As families across our province know, strike action disproportionately hurts our kids, especially the most vulnerable in our classrooms,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement. “My message to our labour partners is to always put kids first, and continue to work with us in good faith to make sure kids remain in class each and every day.”
Bischof said that they are thinking of the kids, but the government is unwilling to deal with the union on their own terms, and that government negotiators have said that other agreements reached between the government and different unions should have no bearing on the present negotiations with the OSSTF.
“While the government and the trustee associations drag their feet, students across the province have lost access to mandatory courses, are being crammed into classrooms, sometimes with 40 or more of their peers, and are going without the critical support staff they need to succeed,” he added.
Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner got into the debate with a statement of his own saying that negotiations can’t proceed when the government seems unwilling to talk about the most pertinent issues of concern to the teachers.
“I urge the Ford government to avoid an interruption to the school year by working hard to address the education quality concerns raised by teachers and education support staff,” Schreiner said. “I commend the union for being transparent about their bargaining position and for making it clear that cuts to education are a direct threat to high-quality public education.
“Now it’s the government’s responsibility to listen and be willing to back away from their cuts,” Schreiner added.
Photo credit: Ivy Woods, a Guelph early childhood education worker and member of the OSSTF, speaks at the Labour Day Picnic this past September.