Teachers’ union and province set to discuss

Ontario’s teachers and support staff unions are meeting with the province and school boards this month as initial negotiations begin and their contracts expire at the end of August.

CUPE, which represents support staff, will participate in the talks on July 18, the union representing French school board teachers on July 19, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation on July 20, and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association on July 21.

Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, noted that there are only eight weeks left until September and that “we will be in front of them on July 18 to try to reach an agreement equity that offers more support to students and makes sure workers’ compensation is no longer eroded.

A Thursday memo to high school teachers’ union locals, obtained by the Star, said these early discussions were to “establish ground rules for bargaining” and determine what will be dealt with provincially and locally in under Ontario’s two-tier bargaining process.

“We have agreed on a date to meet to discuss central and local terms, and we will let our presidents and chief negotiators know soon,” said Karen Littlewood, president of the union, which has 60,000 members. “I imagine we’ll be dating a few weeks after that first meeting.”

She said the timing of the negotiation is typical and “we fully intend to be in the classroom and serving the students and happy to see them face to face.”

In a statement to The Star, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said “our priority is to ensure that students are back in class, on time, with the full school experience, which is essential to their mental and physical health.

The province, he added, “is focused on reaching an agreement that keeps students in the classroom without any interruptions – ensuring that students can catch up on their studies and graduate with the skills they need to the jobs of the future.

The latest round of bargaining has proven contentious, with rotating strikes and other industrial action by education unions before the pandemic hit. Since the onset of COVID, students in Ontario have spent more time learning online than most in North America and much of Europe.

Wages are expected to dominate this round of talks given the 1% cap on raises and high inflation.

In Ontario, education negotiations consist of two rounds – central, where important issues such as salaries are discussed, and local, where more administrative issues are discussed with individual school boards.

Littlewood said extracurricular activities remain voluntary and “if our members come back to school and they would like to do extracurricular activities, they will. And if it’s too much because of everything that’s going on, they won’t… it doesn’t look like there will be any restrictions in place.

She also said secondary teachers are seeking more resources as the government continues to move forward with the downgrading of classes – eliminating applied and academic levels in the lower secondary years.

With files by Rob Ferguson

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Joan J. Holland