Ontario government, secondary school teachers' union agree to process to avoid strike


The Ontario government has announced it will enter a process with the province’s secondary school teachers’ union to avoid strikes and keep kids in school, pending a vote by members.

“This tentative agreement sets out a period of time to continue negotiating in good faith,” Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said at a Friday news conference. “If a negotiated agreement can't be reached, the parties will enter into binding interest arbitration, which is a fair and reasonable approach to resolve all outstanding issues.”

In a news release issued prior to Lecce’s remarks, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) said its bargaining unit presidents and chief negotiators voted “overwhelmingly” to enter the process on Friday.

“Today represents a critical point in this round of bargaining,” OSSTF President Karen Littlewood said in a news release.

The OSSTF said it will now begin preparations to hold a vote for its 60,000 members through September on entering the process.

Littlewood underscored while the process is not a tentative agreement, as described by Lecce, it could help to speed up negotiations which have been dragging on for 13 months.

OSSTF will have until Oct. 27 to continue bargaining without the threat of strikes under the terms of the proposal. After that, any items that can’t be agreed upon at the negotiating table will be sent to arbitration, the union said.

Lecce added that the Ontario government has extended its offer to the other three education sector unions in the province, all of which have also been bargaining for over a year.

Last week, the OSSTF and its elementary school counterpart, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), both announced they were moving towards a strike in the fall and asked their members to vote in favour of walkouts.

On Monday, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association followed suit by announcing their plans to hold strike votes in the fall, citing the slow pace of negotiations with the government.

The Association of Franco-Ontarian Teachers (AEFO) has also voiced concerns over their negotiations with the province, but has yet to announce plans to hold a strike vote.

"Now that we have a tentative agreement with OSSTF, we have now just invited all three teacher federations to meet with us as early as Monday so that we can lay out this proposed agreement and to ask them to agree to it as well," Lecce said. "This should not take those unions weeks, but rather days to agree to this incredibly fair, reasonable student-focused proposal that keeps kids in school.”

No other union has responded to the Ontario government’s offer at time of writing.

Littlewood said the government’s proposal also “guarantees” that OSSTF members will receive a remedy for "wages lost" due to Bill 124, a 2019 law that she described as a “wage suppression legislation that unfairly targeted woman-dominated public sector workers.” Bill 124 was struck down as unconstitutional by an Ontario court last year, a decision the Progressive Conservative government has appealed.

-With files from The Canadian Press