While one teachers union accepts Ontario's invite to bargain, others criticize offer

lisa thompson

After one teaching union accepted the Ontario government's offer to begin early negotiations regarding a new collective bargaining agreement, two others are pushing back. 

On Monday, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation decided to begin early talks with the education ministry and minister Lisa Thompson. 

An initial meeting has to take place in the next 15 days, with OSSTF President Harvey Bischof saying he expects bargaining to be difficult, telling the Canadian Press the government has shown it's prepared to sacrifice education quality. 

But on Tuesday, both the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association and the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario pushed back on the minister's offer for various reasons. 

OECTA President Liz Stuart accused the government of playing games, since consultations with school boards around funding, class sizes and hiring process are still underway. 

"I think for us we find it a little bit odd," she said. "Yes they released the GSN (Grants for Student Needs funding) last week, but they didn't release any of the technical papers that boards use to really go through and find out, where all of those monies are supposed to be used and how they are supposed to be used."

"It's actually a little unusual to go to a table without all of that information." 

Stuart said however that depending on what their boards decide, they could accept the offer at any time and the board will likely be at the table before the end of June. 

Premier Doug Ford has also pledged to never allow a teachers contract to end on August 31st ever again.

Earlier in the day, Thompson said the government was "extremely disappointed" that other groups hadn't taken her up on the offer.

Then after Question Period, Thompson argued that since boards are in consultations, that's more reason to start speaking early. 

"To give as much certainty as possible to our school boards, I thought it would be astute and very proactive to invite partners to the table if they wanted to come," she said. 

When asked if the ETFO would follow the OSSTF's example, its president said in a statement that associations and unions have the chance to give notice to bargain until August 31. 

"Minister Thompson is also aware that provincial legislation precludes the government itself from providing notice to bargain," Sam Hammond said. "Consequently, the remarks made by the Minister about the timing of negotiations are unhelpful and, for those who might be unfamiliar with education sector bargaining legislation, likely confusing."

Stuart doesn't think however that the OSSTF opting to begin early talks while others don't is necessarily a bad sign for negotiations going forward. 

"Each federation will make decisions based on what they believe is in the best interest of their members, based on what information they may have," she said. "We'd really prefer to have at the very least, technical papers and more information, but our school boards could turn around tomorrow and invite us to that table."