The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation's bargaining team at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, December 3, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Harvey Bischof via Twitter)

Schools to close as teachers, education workers head to the picket line

After weeks of unsuccessful contract talks with the province, teachers and some education support workers at Ontario’s public secondary schools are now on strike.

It was announced just after midnight Wednesday morning that members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) would follow through on a promise to hold a one-day, province-wide full withdrawal of services if a tentative agreement was not reached. The union represents public high school teachers and, at some boards, educational assistants, continuing education teachers and instructors, and early childhood educators who will walk off the job on Wednesday but will then return to work on Thursday.

The strike will result in the vast majority of public secondary schools closing across the province, along with several public elementary schools that will also be affected.  While the OSSTF represents teachers at the secondary school level, at some school boards it also represents educational assistants and child and youth workers at both secondary and elementary school levels.

Several school boards have issued statements about how their schools will be affected by the one-day strike.  The Thames Valley District School Board and Lambton Kent District School Board plan to close all secondary schools in their districts, while the boards’ elementary schools will remain open.  However, both elementary schools and high schools will be closed within the districts governed by the Greater Essex County District School Board, the Bluewater District School Board and the Avon Maitland District School Board.

In Windsor-Essex, public French schools are also closed, while French Catholic schools remain open.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce called on the OSSTF to cancel the strike Tuesday evening and referred to the union’s move to strike as “needless escalation that is hurting children, parents, and families.” He also accused the union of not making a substantive move for over 200 days of bargaining, aside from insisting on a $1.5 billion increase in pay and benefits.

“I am reaffirming my commitment to examining innovative solutions to avoid a strike,” he said in a statement. “I am open to a framework that achieves our goal of reaching a deal that keeps students in the classroom.”

However,  OSSTF President Harvey Bischof accused the province’s bargaining team of making no attempt to reach a deal ahead of the strike deadline.

“OSSTF education workers & teachers will be back in schools Thursday, we remain ready to negotiate,” Bischof said in a Tweet just after midnight.

The OSSTF has said class sizes, staffing, mandatory e-learning, and other issues that affect the quality of student learning have been sticking points throughout contract negotiations with the province.

Secondary school teachers began a work-to-rule campaign on November 26 in an effort to put pressure on the province in contract talks, but with contract talks at a virtual standstill, two days later the OSSTF announced its intention to hold the one-day walkout. Earlier this fall, union members voted 95.5 per cent in favour of giving the OSSTF a mandate to strike if necessary.

The OSSTF represents 60,000 members across Ontario.