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Ontario high school teachers won't have a contract before the academic year starts, union warns

Disagreements between the union, the province and school boards stalling bargaining, OSSTF says
July 25, 2019
Natalie Valleau

Contract negotiations for Ontario high school teachers have stalled, and according to the head of the province's main secondary school teachers' union, bargaining can't resume before the beginning of the school year.

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF), told CBC News that the school boards, union and the government are still in a very early phase of the bargaining process, because they disagree on what should be dealt with in negotiations with the province, and what should be handled during bargaining with school boards.

"We've applied to the labour board who will hold a hearing on Aug. 22 and will subsequently issue a decision on this matter telling us what will be bargained at the central table and therefore what will be bargained at local tables with school boards across the province," said Bischof in a telephone interview Wednesday.

He explained that the OSSTF believes that matters regarding items like cafeteria supervision, absent teacher coverage, and medical note submission should be discussed within local school boards, as it has been for years.

However the Ontario Public School Boards' Association (OPSBA) thinks these matters should be decided at the central level, said Bischof.

"Now it makes sense to us that , big ticket items that have significant cost and are therefore funded by the provincial government should be dealt with at the central table and all sorts of local management matters should be dealt with by local school boards because conditions are different," he said.

Bischof explained it's unfortunate that the OPSBA does not to have faith in its local school boards to bargain items at their local tables.

OPSBA responds

The OPSBA told CBC News that the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act identifies that matters of significant financial consequence should be bargained centrally, where the government, school boards and federations are all represented.

"OPSBA and the Crown continue to actively meet at the bargaining table with the other education sector unions to identify central matters and issues bargaining," said T.J. Goertz, the senior communications and policy officer at OPSBA.

Bischof responded by explaining he agrees funding implications should be dealt with at the central table, but doesn't understand why OPSBA wants all matters to be out of the hands of local school boards.

"Local school boards could continue to handle them most effectively and efficiently and trying to drag those to a central table just makes that process cumbersome and lengthy," he said.

'Our students deserve no less'

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce expressed confidence earlier this month that a deal would be reached with teachers before their contracts expire on Aug. 31.

CBC News reached out to Lecce's office and was told the minister continues to call on all parties to reach a deal as soon as possible to provide predictability and confidence to parents, students and educators.

"Our students deserve no less," said Alexandra Adamo, press secretary for the Ontario Ministry of Education.

However, Bischof said bargaining won't begin until mid-September at the very earliest.

Until then, he said his members will be working under their old contract.

"We're going to come to the table with proposals that are good for Ontario students and good for the school system and we'll see if we're met on the other side with a willing partner in pursuing those things," he said.

"If we're not you know it could drag on for some time."