Ontario teachers face pressure from education minister


In hopes of avoiding strikes this fall, Education Minister Stephen Lecce is increasing the pressure on other teacher unions to join a pact that would see contract talks continue until Oct. 27 and send outstanding issues to binding arbitration.

“This is the win-win outcome we believe will benefit every child,” Lecce said Monday in Thornhill in another bid to convince unions representing elementary, Catholic and French-language educators to get on board with the concept.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) tentatively agreed to it Friday and the union’s 60,000 members will vote on it next month.

Lecce’s appeal — aimed at building public support for the idea — came after the other unions quickly rejected the approach.

“Binding arbitration would all but guarantee that the key issues we have brought forward at our respective bargaining tables, which are critical to learning and working conditions in our schools, would not be addressed,” the unions said in a joint statement.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and AEFO, representing French-language teachers, warned that agreeing to arbitration this far in advance would limit the opportunity for “meaningful local bargaining” with school boards.

The president of the Catholic association scolded Lecce for his remarks Monday.

“Catholic teachers would appreciate if Minister Lecce and the Ford Conservative government did more talking at the bargaining table, and less talking in the media,” said René Jansen in de Wal.

“Our association has been bargaining for almost 15 months, with the goal of realizing a fair, negotiated collective agreement that supports all students, educators and families,” the union president added.

“In more than 450 days since Catholic teachers filed notice to bargain, we have been given 30 meetings — an average of two per month — despite our repeated offers and requests for more days. And we still have not finalized the scope of central items to be bargained.”

The association’s next bargaining dates are in September and members will hold a strike vote Oct. 18 and 19.

The elementary teachers union, which is in bargaining Tuesday, declined to comment on the minister’s push for a no-strike deal.

Lecce remained optimistic during an appearance at the new E.J. Sand Public School, where he detailed new supports for students this fall, including almost 2,000 new teachers to help with math and writing.

“We look forward to meeting with all education unions so we can sign a deal,” he told reporters. “I’m asking our partners in the teacher unions to work with us to get this done.”

Lecce’s move follows complaints from unions — which have been without contracts since last August — that bargaining with the government has been slow and sporadic, with little progress.

OSSTF president Karen Littlewood said her union signed on to the plan because “it does promise to break any impasse by bringing in a third-party arbitrator to seek a fair and just resolution.”

Rob Ferguson