Public high schools in Ontario closed today as teachers hold one day strike
By Shawn Jeffords
TORONTO (CP) – Hundreds of thousands of high school students will be out of class Wednesday as their teachers hold a one-day strike to protest the lack of progress in contract talks between their union and Premier Doug Ford’s government.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, which represents about 60,000 public high school teachers and support workers, said the government had not put forward any constructive proposals during the negotiation process.
After midnight we have not reached an agreement and so the strike is officially on,” he said. “OSSTF education workers and teachers will be back in schools Thursday. We remain ready to negotiate.”
Hundreds of people picketed outside the Toronto District School Board headquarters Wednesday morning, hoisting signs as they called for spending cuts to be reversed. The crowd cheered in response every time passing motorists honked their horns in solidarity.
Ontario’s public high school teachers have been without a contract since August.
On Tuesday night, Education Minister Stephen Lecce asked the union to call off the strike, saying his bargaining team had presented a new “framework” to the union in a bid to keep all parties at the table.
But union president Harvey Bischof said the teachers had not been given anything new by a mediator, and no progress had been made for days.
The union announced last week that teachers could walk off the job in order to turn up the pressure during tense labour negotiations with the Progressive Conservative government.
The teachers are already conducting a work-to-rule campaign and say they are pushing back against government plans to increase class sizes and introduce mandatory e-learning courses.
“While we sympathize absolutely with students and parents facing disruption and anxiety, a single day strike doesn’t come close to the kind of disruption this government will wreak on the education system if they’re allowed to go forward with their destructive proposals,” Bischof said.
The strike will call political attention to the cuts that this government has already imposed and wants to impose further, he said.
“We have seen this government change direction when faced with political opposition and so that’s our intention,” Bischof said.
School boards across the province said Tuesday they would be forced to close their high schools because of the job action. At some boards where the union represents both teachers and education workers, both high schools and elementary schools would be closed.
Such is the case in Ottawa, where the public school board said the cancellation also extended to night school, co-op programs and home instruction, as well as extended day programs it operates and some by third-party providers.
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board faced criticism, however, for alerting families to the closure with automated phone calls shortly after the strike was announced at midnight.
The board apologized for the disruption in a statement Wednesday morning. “We understand the concerns that some families have raised about using both phone and voice message at 12:30 a.m. to communicate that schools would be closed today,” it said.
“We were aware how important this message was for many families, and wanted to maintain our commitment to notify the community as quickly as possible after OSSTF made its decision known. This was an unusual circumstance and we will take feedback into consideration for the future.”
Lecce has said the main issue in the talks is compensation, with the government recently passing legislation to cap annual wage increases for all public sector workers at one per cent for three years. The union is asking for inflationary increases, which would amount to about two per cent.
Bischof dismissed the claim that compensation is the main issue as “outrageous.”
The minister said the government remains ready to bargain, but did not provide any further details of the new framework apparently offered on Tuesday.
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