High school teachers ‘discouraged’ in talks with province, union says

High school teachers ‘discouraged’ in talks with province, union says

The union representing Ontario high school teachers says it is “discouraged and disappointed” in ongoing contract negotiations with the government and school boards.

In a memo to members released Thursday morning, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation president Harvey Bischof said while talks continue, the provincial bargaining team “came unprepared to engage in meaningful discussions. Even in the wake of recent developments in the sector, the management team had no new proposals on substantive issues.”

He said after Thursday’s bargaining session — the third and last scheduled for this week — “we will step back and consider our next steps.”

The OSSTF has yet to take a strike vote. Strike votes are underway across the province for the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.

Bischof told the Star that while provincial negotiators are saying one thing, Doug Ford’s cabinet ministers are publicly saying another.

“The Crown is telling us at the table that what happened in other negotiations has no effect on ours,” said Bischof, referring to last Sunday’s announcement of a three-year deal with support staff, who are represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

But then Finance Minister Rod Phillips says teachers should look to the CUPE deal “for limits on what can be negotiated” with regards wage increases.

“They are publicly contradicting their actions at the table … they will say whatever is most convenient at the time,” Bischof added.

Bischof — whose union has taken the unprecedented step of posting all bargaining proposals online — said the government “needs to come with proposals on some of the more significant matters, and not the trivialities of the housekeeping stuff they have come with.”

On Wednesday, Phillips told reporters there are “limits” to what the government can afford, and pointed to the recent CUPE contract that caps wages for its 55,000 members at 1 per cent a year over the three-year deal.

The province has previously proposed legislation to cap all public-sector wage increases at that level.

OSSTF is seeking a cost-of-living increase, which would be roughly 2 per cent this year.

The CUPE deal also maintained sick leave days and pay at the same rate — 11 days at 100 per cent and another 120 days of short-term disability at 90 per cent.

The province has said it is seeking to reduce the short-term disability to 60 per cent pay for teachers.

Last spring, the Ford government also announced it was boosting class sizes — especially in high schools — and introducing four mandatory online courses that will lead to the loss of thousands of teaching positions over the next four years.

All education contracts expired at the end of August. Only CUPE has reached a tentative deal with the province to date, and its ratification vote must be completed by the end of the month.

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On Wednesday, Education Minster Stephen Lecce told reporters “we are negotiating in good faith” with teacher and education unions, and “we hope to land deals with all those federations. We think it is very important that we have stability in the sector.”

He said he has urged all parties to “make students the centre of our focus.”

Kristin Rushowy

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