Teachers’ union and province set to talk

Ontario’s teacher and support staff unions are meeting with the province and school boards this month, as early bargaining begins and their contracts expire at the end of August.

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

Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions, noted there are only eight weeks left until September and “we will be across the table from them on July 18 trying to get a fair deal done that provides more supports for students and makes sure workers’ pay is no longer eroded.”

A Thursday memo to the secondary teachers’ union locals, obtained by the Star, said these early discussions are to “establish ground rules for bargaining” and determine what will be handled provincially and locally under Ontario’s two-tiered negotiations process.

“We have settled on a date to meet to discuss the central and local terms, and we’ll be informing our presidents and chief negotiators about that shortly,” said Karen Littlewood, president of the 60,000-member union. “I imagine we’ll have some dates a few weeks after we have this initial meeting.”

She said the timing of bargaining is typical and “we have every intention of being 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 make sure students are back in class, on time, with the full school experience, which is critical to their mental and physical health.”

The province, he added, is “focused on landing a deal that keeps students in class without any disruptions — ensuring that students can catch up on their studies and graduate with the skills they need for the jobs of the future.”

The last round of negotiations proved contentious, with rotating strikes and other job action by the education unions before the pandemic hit. Since COVID hit, Ontario students have spent more time learning online than most others in North America and much of Europe.

Wages are expected to dominate this round of talks given the province’s one per cent cap on raises and high inflation.

In Ontario, education bargaining consists of two rounds — central, where the big-money items such as salaries are discussed, and local, where more administrative matters are discussed with individual school boards.

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

She also said high school teachers are looking for more resources as the government continues to move ahead with destreaming classes — eliminating the applied and academic levels in the early years of secondary.

With files from Rob Ferguson

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