Toronto High School Teachers Reject Proposed Strike-Prevention Agreement

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In an unexpected twist, a tentative agreement aimed at averting a strike by Toronto high school teachers has come under fire from the very bargaining unit that was tasked with representing them. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), who stood at the negotiation table with the Ontario government in late August, refuses to accept the government’s proposition. The disputed criterion suggests employing voluntary binding arbitration, thus inviting a neutral third party to dictate the final decisions on unresolved issues if no collective agreement is reached by the 27th of October.

Despite this compromise, the members of the OSSTF, who will be casting their votes to accept or reject the agreement on the 8th and 27th of September, remain sceptical. In a memo circulated among the members on September 7, the OSSTF Toronto Teachers’ Bargaining Unit Executive expressed stark disapproval for the voluntary binding arbitration.

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Avoiding mincing words, the executive expressed grave “concerns about voluntarily entering into a binding arbitration process that eliminates our right to strike or take other job actions such as selective withdrawal of services.” They further emphasized that the ability to strike or withdraw services embodies “one of the cornerstones of the labour movement”, relinquishing of which can potentially “set a dangerous precedent for education workers and the entire labor movement”.

They expressed concern that the binding arbitration could strip the members of their rights to determine the final agreement. “[Our] aim is not to direct Members how to vote, but to share our concerns so they can make their own informed decision,” the Toronto bargaining executive clarified. This distress is echoed by the other three teachers’ unions of Ontario who also eschewed the government’s offer.

Despite these objections, this process was lauded by the president of OSSTF, Karen Littlewood. In her conversation with CTV News Toronto, she heralded the introduction of arbitrator as “welcome” since they could bear witness to the proceedings and facilitate progress. She also informed that OSSTF has five bargaining dates scheduled in September and six more in October.

Should members disregard the tentative contract, Littlewood foresees strike votes or “some other type of pressure” to negotiate a deal. However, she remains hopeful that such a scenario can be averted. Littlewood criticizes the government for being unwilling to actively engage in the bargaining process for over a year. As the Education Minister Steven Lecce’s spokesperson insisted, “our government is determined to keep kids in class for the next three years without the threat of strikes”. The government remains steadfast on its plea to other unions to concur with their binding arbitration framework.