Public and Catholic school teachers and educators are moving closer to possible strike action in Ontario.
In a province-wide vote conducted on Wednesday, Nov. 13, members of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) delivered an overwhelming strike mandate, with 97.1 per cent voting in favour of authorizing strike action.
This vote follows a similar vote carried out by The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), which represents 83,000 elementary public school teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals across the province.
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The ETFO recently received a ‘no board’ report, meaning a legal strike involving ETFO members could begin as early as Nov. 25.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) will be in a legal strike position as of next Monday.
OECTA represents the 45,000 teachers in Ontario’s publicly funded English Catholic schools, from Kindergarten to Grade 12.
“The message we have sent to the government is loud and clear: Catholic teachers will not accept any agreement that would be detrimental to learning and working conditions in our schools,” said Liz Stuart, President of OECTA, in a statement.
“The government will try to portray this as teachers escalating tensions, but the reality is they have created this situation by continuing to pursue their reckless cuts to education. We know Ontarians do not approve of the Ford government’s agenda – it is time for the government to stop casting blame and instead get serious about making the proper investments in our world-class system of publicly funded education.”
OECTA is not yet in a legal strike position, so negotiations will continue for the time being.
That said, the union says it’s looking for “significant movement” from the government on a number of important issues.
“Our goal remains to negotiate a fair collective agreement that respects Catholic teachers’ contributions, ensures the safety and well-being of teachers and students, and protects vital programs and services in our schools,” says Stuart. “The government should take heed of the message they have received today, and come to the table prepared to work with us toward this end.”
The ETFO and OSSTF, on the other hand, will both be in a legal position to take strike action in the coming days.
“ETFO is fighting for investment, not cuts in education, but Doug Ford’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce isn’t listening,” Sam Hammond, ETFO president, said in an earlier news release.
Hammond says the government has failed to address a number of pressing issues, including violence in schools and the lack of support for students with special needs. Unions have also protested the government’s plans to increase class sizes.
In response to concerns about planned increases in class sizes, the Ministry of Education agreed to drop classes of 28 students down to 25.
After ETFO announced it was moving forward with possible strike action, the province expressed disappointment.
“While our government has been a reasonable and constructive force at the bargaining table – focused on keeping kids in class – today, ETFO has taken another escalating step towards a strike which will disproportionately hurt our kids,” Lecce said in a Nov. 1 news release.
“Strike action caused by unions could mean school closures, disruption, and uncertainty for students and parents. I support a deal, not a strike. Our team remains unequivocal in our determination to land deals with our labour partners as soon as possible to keep our kids in the classroom.”
More to come.