Ontario Teachers’ Unions Threaten Strike Amid Contract Negotiations

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As the autumn leaves begin to fall, classrooms across Ontario are filling with students once more. Their return to school, however, is accompanied by an air of uncertainty, with teachers still in the throes of contract negotiations.

Of the quartet of unions representing the province’s educators and a selection of education workers, none have managed to reach an agreement with the provincial government regarding a new collective pact. The majority of the unions, three out of the four, have committed to holding strike votes in the upcoming months.

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Parents may be wondering what lies ahead. Here’s some key information about the potential strike.

Negotiations are currently unfolding between the provincial government and the following labour unions: the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSTF), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO).

All but the OSTF have dismissed the province’s proposal of binding interest arbitration. Such a measure would entrust the final decision to a neutral third party – a step that could prevent a strike in public high schools, if an agreement could be reached.

The immediate prospect of a strike lurks in the distant future rather than knocking at the doorstep. Any work action may not materialize for several months, if at all. However, should negotiations falter, the three remaining unions plan to hold a strike vote in the fall. Such votes are slated for the period from mid-September to mid-November. Only if members vote in favour of a strike will any action be organized.

In fact, the ETFO has declared its intentions to proceed towards conciliation. This formally mediated process involves a third party who works with the contending parties in order to broker a resolution. It is a common course of action before union members engage in any strikes or work actions. If an agreement is not reached during conciliation, a “no-board” notice will be issued, commencing a 16-day countdown to a potential strike or work action.

What does this mean for the children? While teachers have a range of job actions at their disposal, not all result in a full strike. There is the option to withdraw from extra-curricular activities or commit only to core classroom duties. Last year, when the province unilaterally enforced a contract on education support workers and outlawed strikes, unions held a province-wide single-day walkout and rotating one-day strikes in defiance. During these periods of action, children could not enter the classrooms. However, there was no instance of a general, multi-day strike.

The root of this crisis lies in the fact that teachers have been without a contract for over a year. A document accessed by CTV News Toronto notes that the province has offered teachers an annual increase of 1.25 per cent for four years. In response, teachers are seeking a one per cent rise per year, coupled with an annual cost of living adjustment in line with inflation, which rose to 3.3 per cent in July according to Statistics Canada.

Moreover, teachers have also underscored that matters such as violence in schools and hiring practices form part of the ongoing discussions.