Toronto Teachers Resist Binding Arbitration in Potential Strike Dispute

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The bargaining faction standing for high school teachers in Toronto has voiced its dissent to a provisional understanding with the provincial administration that would deter a strike by relying on voluntary binding arbitration. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) reached this bargaining consensus with the government of Ontario in late August. If a collective agreement is not agreed upon by October 27, a third-party arbitrator will be called upon to conclude unresolved matters.

OSSTF members will hold votes on September 8 and September 27 to determine their acceptance or rejection of this agreement. However, on September 7, the OSSTF Toronto Teachers’ Bargaining Unit Executive distributed a memorandum to its members expressing their resistance against the use of voluntary binding arbitration. They voiced apprehensions about willingly participating in a binding arbitration process which would forfeit their rights to strike or to engage in other job actions like selective withdrawal of services.

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According to the memo, the faculty to strike or withdraw services is a fundamental tenet of the labour movement, which has been secured after strenuous battles over the years. The executive cautioned that willingly surrendering these rights could create a precarious precedent for educational workers and the entire labour movement. They also argued that binding arbitration eliminates members’ rights to vote on the concluding agreement.

Similar objections were voiced by Ontario’s three other teachers’ unions who dismissed the government’s offer. The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) announced in late August that they are proceeding with the next steps, including appealing for conciliation, a formal mediation procedure wherein a third party works alongside both parties to mutually find a resolution.

Despite the dissent, OSSTF President Karen Littlewood welcomed the concept of binding arbitration, praising its potential for promoting progress in negotiations. She confirmed that five bargaining dates have been scheduled in September, and another six in October. If the members vote against the tentative deal, commencement of strike votes or other forms of pressure to reach a deal is likely.

Reiterating the appeal to other unions to agree to their binding arbitration framework, a spokesperson for the Education Minister, Steven Lecce, expressed the government’s resolve to keep children in classrooms for the next three years without disruptions created by strikes. Ontario teachers and some educational workers have been awaiting contract renewal for over a year.