Ontario’s public high school teachers will stage a one-day strike next Wednesday in a bid to pressure the province as negotiations drag on.
Harvey Bischof, president of the 60,000-member Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, made the announcement Thursday afternoon about the province-wide “full withdrawal of services” — a first for the union in more than two decades.
“This is intended to draw further attention to this government’s destructive cuts to the education system,” he said.
Bischof said there has been little progress at the bargaining table despite the union launching a work-to-rule campaign on Tuesday.
The OSSTF also represents support staff, speech-language pathologists and social workers in some boards, who will walk off the job Dec. 4 and then return to work the next day.
This is the first all-out strike for the union since 1997. Bischof called it a “largely political action” to help get a deal.
Unions are required to give five days’ notice of any job action or escalation.
Bischof said there has not been “sufficient movement” in talks with the provincial government and school board associations to hammer out new contracts.
Class sizes, e-learning and salary are among the outstanding issues.
In recent weeks, Education Minister Stephen Lecce has said the province wants to increase average high school class sizes from last year’s 22 students up to 25 — down from its original proposal of 28 — which would still phase out thousands of teaching jobs and course options for teens.
Even moving from last year’s average of 22 to this year’s 22.5 students, boards have reported larger classes to offset smaller ones, as well cancelled classes and limited course sections for students.
The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, which is also at the bargaining table with the province and OSSTF, earlier this week reiterated its serious concerns about bigger classes, and mandatory e-learning.
Lecce has proposed requiring two e-learning courses to earn a high school diploma for students entering Grade 9 next fall, down from the government’s original proposal of four credits. Students already enrolled in high school would be exempt.
Both initiatives are unpopular with the public, polling has shown, and the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association — which represents all 2 million students in the province — is urging the government to drop the e-learning requirement all together.
A recent survey it conducted found almost 95 per cent of teens opposed mandatory online courses over concerns of quality and teacher availability.
The high school teachers’ union is seeking salary increases equal to the cost of living — about two per cent this year — while the province has just passed legislation limiting any broader public sector pay boosts to one per cent a year.
Unions intend to take the government to court over the new law.
Bischof has said there is widespread public support for cost-of-living increases, and that in looking at deals over the years, that’s what the raises have overall worked out to.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, which is also engaging in a largely administrative work-to-rule campaign, is not expected to join the high school teachers in their one-day protest.
The province’s Catholic and French-language teacher unions are not yet in a legal strike position.
The last full-out province-wide strike by teachers was under the Mike Harris government, as educators fought cuts to education.
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Four years ago, public secondary teachers in Peel, Durham and Rainbow/Sudbury went on a month-long strike before it was declared unlawful and they were ordered back to work by the previous Liberal government.
Both the public secondary and elementary teachers are currently in a largely administrative work-to-rule campaigns. They are not taking part in any ministry programs, staff meetings or those after hours, and only providing marks for report cards.
In addition, they won’t prepare for or participate in any provincial standardized tests. The next round is Grade 9 math assessments scheduled for mid-January.