Ontario’s English Catholic teachers may be off the job before students write their final exams. Photo by Michael Swan

Ontario English Catholic teachers may strike before exams

  • April 24, 2015

Ontario's English Catholic teachers could be on the picket lines before students receive their final report card this school year.

After two days of voting, more than 94 per cent of Ontario’s English Catholic teachers told their union they would walk a picket line if negotiators can’t get a better deal in continuing talks with the province and school board trustees.

“OECTA (Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association) members have clearly expressed their opinion of the trustees' and the government's positions at the bargaining table with this strike vote,” said the union's president James Ryan. “The employer side is using the economy as the excuse to take back everything OECTA has gained in bargaining, locally and provincially, for decades.”

Among the topics on the table is a wage freeze similar to the two-year freeze put in place in the last round of collective bargaining in 2012.

The strike mandate has to do with more than just money for OECTA’s 50,000 members, said Ryan.

“Our members know that what has been proposed goes far beyond demands for a wage freeze,” he said. “This includes provisions that recognize teachers' professional judgement.”

The initial proposal from the province, which OECTA received in confidence back in February, seeks to strip teachers of professional judgment necessary to properly meet the needs of students, Ryan said. Boards may try to eliminate time currently allocated in the daily schedule for teachers to prepare lessons, making it harder to address the needs of their particular classes.

“Our members know they must take a stand against such proposals that also threaten student’s learning conditions,” said Ryan. “There is absolutely nothing that justified the employers' demands (and) OECTA members will not tolerate what can only be characterized as contract stripping.”

While a strike is looming over Ontario's Catholic schools, Ryan said the point of putting a strike mandate in place is not to picket but rather to be taken more seriously at the bargaining table.

“The hope is to try to make the employers side of the table aware… that we are serious about bargaining, that we are serious about protecting the working conditions and student-learning conditions,” he said. “We want to negotiate a settlement, but if necessary we will take job action.”

That message seems to be resonating with at least one player on the employers’ side of the table.

“We are aware of the strike mandate,” said Kathy Burtnik, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association. “We will continue to bargain in good faith, respecting the negotiating process and maintaining the specifics of negotiations at the table. We are committed to this bargaining process and we are hopeful that an agreement with OECTA will be reached.”

Strikes are already public board high school students east of Toronto in Ajax, Pickering, Oshawa and Bowmanville. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation bargaining for high school teachers in the public system has also complained that progress has been slow in the two-tiered process that will see large monetary issues worked out at provincial tables and then more local issues negotiated between union locals and individual school boards.

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