After six months of rising tensions with all four of Ontario’s teachers unions, the Provincial government can now take some comfort that they’ve solved 25 per cent of the problem. The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) has reached a tentative deal with the Ontario government, and the president of the Wellington unit looks forward to hanging up his picket sign.
“We’re glad to be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and we hope it’s a good deal. Nobody wants to be out on strike,” said Mark Berardine, the president of Wellington OECTA. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster this whole strike period. We thought we were close earlier in the process, and then we weren’t, so there’s been a lot of mental stress on everybody, including our students.”
The details of the deal have yet to be announced, and not even Berardine had seen a copy of the deal yet when he spoke to Guelph Politico on Friday. The various presidents of the OECTA locals will get a look at the deal in the coming week, and once they ratify it, the deal will go out to all members for their consideration. Getting to that point might be tricky though.
“Because of the health situation we might not be able to meet because there’s about 100 of us,” Berardine said. “We may be able to go ahead with it, or we may have to do it by phone conference on the day.”
The OECTA expects to have a province-wide vote on the new deal by April 7 and 8, which is not a moment too soon for the Education Minister.
“Our Government achieved our foremost priority – landing a good deal with a teachers’ union that advances the priorities of students and parents,” said Stephen Lecce in a statement. “As part of our Government’s singular focus to ending this impasse, we took action to advance the priorities of students and parents and provide fairness to teachers.”
Part of that “action” was to basically renege on all the demands that the government had been asking for since the teachers’ contract expired on August 31. In a snap announcement last week, Lecce said that the government was no longer pushing for a class-size average of 28, or asking for mandatory e-learning credits. Berardine said that he just doesn’t want to see more colleagues lose their jobs.
“We’ve already lost 15 teachers in Wellington Catholic and we certainly don’t want to see another cut,” he explained. “The government’s come down from 28, but the last number [Lecce] had stated, which was 23, still means over 1,000 teachers cut across the province.”
Berardine said that he hopes the success of the OECTA is good news for the other teachers’ unions, including the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), which represents many of the support workers at Catholic Board schools. And, as the labour action looks to be winding down, he’s also grateful for all the community support.
“Wherever people see ‘Wellington Catholic Teachers’ on my jacket I can’t believe the number of people who came up to me and say, ‘We’re with you, good job, keep fighting for the kids!'” Berardine said. “I have to say that without the overwhelmingly support from parents and the community we wouldn’t have been able to make this far, so I want to thank the public.”