Toronto high school teachers, represented by the bargaining unit, have expressed opposition to a planned agreement with the provincial government that would avert a potential strike through voluntary binding arbitration.
The tentative deal between the Ontario government and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) was reached in late August. The agreement entails the use of a third party to arbitrate unsettled issues if a collective agreement remains elusive by Oct. 27. On Sept. 8 and Sept. 27, the OSSTF members will conduct a vote on the acceptance of this deal.
According to a memo released on Sept. 7, the OSSTF Toronto Teachers’ Bargaining Unit Executive voiced their disapproval for voluntary binding arbitration. The argument against it centered on how it relinquishes their right to strike or to invoke other job actions like selective withdrawal of services.
The Executive emphasized the importance of the right to strike and withdraw services as a crucial aspect of the labour movement, underlining the potential harmful precedent that could be set for education workers and the broader labour movement by voluntarily forfeiting these rights. They further asserted that binding arbitration could essentially strip members of their rights to vote on the concluding agreement. However, they clarified that their goal was not to direct members’ votes but to share their concerns to help them make an informed decision.
Meanwhile, similar objections were also raised by Ontario’s other three teacher’s unions, subsequently rejecting the government’s proposal. The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) announced in late August its intention to proceed with the next steps by requesting conciliation – a formal mediation process that utilises a third party to seek resolutions – a standard procedure before engaging in strikes or work action.
Conversely, Karen Littlewood, OSSTF President, mentioned to CTV News Toronto her favorable stance towards the idea of binding arbitration. She expressed hope for constructive progress through this method and acknowledged a change in the bargaining atmosphere. She also revealed that OSSTF has set eleven bargaining dates over the course of September and October.
Littlewood conveyed that if the members vote against the tentative deal, they might proceed with strike votes or implement other forms of negotiating pressure. However, she remained hopeful that this scenario would not materialize.
In light of the 14-month bargaining period, she expressed her anticipation for progress despite the government’s lack of engagement in the bargaining process. Littlewood expressed hope that the members would recognize the potential of the tentative deal as a positive way forward.
Education Minister Steven Lecce’s spokesperson urged other unions on Thursday to acknowledge their binding arbitration framework while maintaining respect towards the ratification process. The government is keenly focused on ensuring stability for Ontario parents to secure three uninterrupted years of learning for their children.
The fact that teachers and some educational workers having been operating without a formal contract for over a year underscores the timeliness and relevance of this ongoing issue.