Ontario’s teachers’ unions are warning the Ford government that they are ready to “mobilize” if the province imposes a contract on educators or uses the notwithstanding clause to settle any bargaining dispute.
The four unions representing the province’s teachers are in active bargaining with the Ontario government — talks that are only now starting to ramp up months after the contracts expired at the end of the summer.
The negotiations, however, come on the heels of a bruising battle between the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Ford government which left schools shut down and led to the unprecedented use of legislation to impose a contract on 55,000 education support workers.
The government eventually backed down and offered the union a 3.5-per cent wage increase, which the union accepted.
While Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government is focused on “good faith” negotiations with the unions, he also indicated the province’s priority is keeping students in class for the remainder of the school year — which echoes language used by the government during the talks with CUPE.
Karen Brown, president of the Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario, told Global News the unions are committed to staying at the bargaining table “as long as possible” but wouldn’t take kindly to any government legislation.
“If this government is unwilling to move, starts to threaten with legislation that we saw with CUPE, we will be ready, we will mobilize our members,” Brown said.
None of the teachers’ unions have indicated there are any plans for strike votes or to walk off the job, and at least one union leader acknowledged parents might not be in the mood for disruption after the CUPE commotion.
“While we might need to pressurize the table that time is not right now,” said Karen Littlewood, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. “We’re heading into exam period, we want to make sure students have what they need.”
While unions expect bargaining to take a while, the negotiations could eventually boil down to wages and a desire to make up for the impact of Bill 124 which capped teachers’ wages at one per cent for a three-year term.
“It’s time that there’s some significant movement in that area,” Brown said. “Real salary increases is a demand for our members.”
Unions will likely use the 3.5-per cent increase given to CUPE as a benchmark for their deal, and indicated inflationary pressures on teachers as well as restricted wages in the past should be taken into account.
The Ford government has maintained that Ontario teachers are among the highest paid in the country and have indicated they’re looking for a “fair deal” without offering details of their contract offer.
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