Catholic school teachers union will vote on Ontario-wide strike

Ontario’s Catholic teachers’ union says it is now scheduling strike votes across the province to fight what it calls the “reckless cuts” of the Doug Ford government.

The move adds to the pressure already mounting on the Ford government given the province’s public elementary and secondary teachers are already holding votes.

In a statement released Sunday, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association said 17 bargaining sessions have already been held with the government and school trustee association.

“We have reached a critical juncture in the bargaining process,” Liz Stuart, OECTA president, said in a statement Sunday.

“Catholic teachers strongly oppose the Ford Conservative government’s regressive education agenda,” she also said.

While Education Minister Stephen Lecce “has publicly said the government is prepared to make investments in the classroom, but at the bargaining table they appear determined to pursue their reckless cuts.”

“To continue making progress, it has become necessary to conduct a strike vote to demonstrate our association’s solidarity and resolve. The government has not listened to our representatives at the bargaining table, so we will be asking our members to demonstrate they are united and prepared to do whatever is necessary to stand up for Ontario’s world-class publicly funded education system.”

Despite the strike votes, negotiations continue with all teacher unions.

Lecce has previously said the teacher unions are “ramping up” strike action and has encouraged them to reach a deal at the table.

The government has already announced it is boosting class sizes starting in Grade 4, and especially in high school where the average size is moving from 22 to 28 students over the next four years, shedding thousands of teaching jobs and limiting course options and class sections for students.

The province also wants to introduce four mandatory online courses in high school. Both the moves are highly unpopular with the public, and students.

Lecce has said that wage increases are a key issue and that to give teachers a 2 per cent raise — roughly equal to the cost of living — would cost $1.5 billion a year and that he would rather that money directly benefit students.

The government has introduced legislation to cap public sector raises at 1 per cent a year.

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said the government only started bargaining seriously with the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ school staff unit once it had a strong strike mandate and began a work-to-rule.

His union also represents support staff in some boards.

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Both the OSSTF and Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario have also requested the help of a conciliator at the bargaining table.

Elementary teachers wrap up their strike votes this month. Both the high school and Catholic teacher unions are holding votes until mid-November.

Kristin Rushowy

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