POLITICS
11/18/2019 12:00 EST | Updated 11/19/2019 09:48 EST

Stephen Lecce: Ontario Can Avoid Teachers' Strike With Mediation

Three of the four major teachers’ unions are inching toward strike action.

TORONTO — Ontario’s education minister is calling for an independent mediator to help reach an agreement with four major teachers’ unions.

“Mediation works,” Minister Stephen Lecce told reporters at Queen’s Park Monday. “We saw this during our negotiation with CUPE.”

The Ford government reached an eleventh-hour agreement the night before non-teaching workers were set to strike in October. 

A mediator can help the government, unions and trustee associations reach an “enduring settlement” and avoid a strike, Lecce said. 

Earlier: Premier Doug Ford warns teachers not to pull any strike ‘nonsense.’ Story continues after video.

 

Shortly before the minister’s press conference, the Catholic teachers’ union put out a press release to accuse the government of sowing confusion.

“... The government not only continues to insist on drastic cuts, but they have demonstrated a total lack of understanding or respect for the bargaining process,” the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) said. 

“During the most recent bargaining session on Friday, November 15, the government abruptly informed us they are withdrawing some proposals and dismissing their bargaining representatives. At this point, we do not even know who represents the government at the negotiating table, let alone which positions or proposals they are authorized to bring forward or discuss.”

... they have demonstrated a total lack of understanding or respect for the bargaining process.Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association

Lecce denied that the government’s bargaining team had changed and said that withdrawing proposals is a normal part of the process. 

“It is very normal to table offers ... Some of those offers will stay on the table. Some of those offers, when the union declines them, will be removed from the table,” he said. 

“Like folks, this happens all the time.”

OECTA and three other large unions are in the middle of re-negotiating teachers’ contracts with the government. Here’s where those talks stand:

  • OECTA is not in a legal strike position yet, but members voted overwhelmingly in favour of job action if an agreement is not reached. Negotiations are ongoing.
  • The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) also has a strike mandate from its members, who include high school teachers and education workers. That union is in a legal position to strike but has not filed a required five-day notice. Negotiations are ongoing.
  • The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) plans to start work-to-rule next Tuesday, Nov. 26. 
  • The French teachers’ union, Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), is still negotiating.

NDP education critic Marit Stiles said the government can only get a deal with teachers if it reverses its plan to increase class sizes. 

Unless they reverse those cuts, we’re going to be back in this situation again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that,” she said at a press conference Monday.

Legislative Assembly of Ontario
Ontario MPP Marit Stiles speaks during question period at Queen's Park on Nov. 7, 2019.

If the government was serious, it would have gone directly to unions with the offer of mediation instead of announcing it through the media, she said. 

“This tactic doesn’t de-escalate tensions, it intentionally raises them.”

The government set a bad tone for negotiations from day one, Stiles said, citing Premier Doug Ford’s claim that student protests were organized by “union thugs,” the government’s hike in class sizes which is expected to remove 10,000 teaching jobs from the system, and a move to limit public sector salary raises to one per cent a year. 

“This is not a great tone and not a great way to resolve the situation we have at hand.”

With a file from The Canadian Press

This story has been updated with news that Ontario’s high school teachers voted in favour of strike action.

Also on HuffPost