High school teachers announce new one-day strike, including in Toronto

TORONTO — Ontario's high school teachers have announced more rotating strikes for next week, including at the province's largest school board.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation said members in select boards will walk off the job on Thursday. President Harvey Bischof maintains that he will call off the ongoing strikes if the government backs down on increasing class sizes.

"Until the minister is ready to acknowledge that these are the issues at the heart of this dispute, and until he's ready to address them in a meaningful way at the bargaining table, (union) members will continue to stand in defence of Ontario's first-class public education system and the students who rely on it," Bischof said in a statement.

The Progressive Conservatives announced last March they would increase average high school class sizes from 22 to 28 — which would lead to thousands of fewer teachers in the system — and require students to take four e-learning courses to graduate.

The government has partly backed off on both issues, offering to instead increase average high school class sizes to 25 and require two online learning courses, but the unions say that doesn't go far enough.

During OSSTF's strike on Thursday, teachers will be off the job in the Toronto, Rainy River, Near North, Grand Erie, Simcoe County, Trillium Lakelands and Hastings and Prince Edward school boards.

Their strike will coincide with a provincewide walkout by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association.

Elementary teachers have said they won't be holding any rotating strikes until March 9, when they say the unspecified next phase of their job action will start.

All four of the province's major teachers' unions have been engaging in strikes during a contentious round of contract talks with the government.

Elementary teachers say their key issues include guaranteeing the future of full-day kindergarten, securing more funding to hire special education teachers, and maintaining seniority hiring rules.

All of the teachers' unions are also asking for around two per cent in annual salary increases, but the Ontario government has passed legislation capping raises for public sector workers at one per cent for three years. The unions, along with other groups, are challenging that legislation in court, saying it infringes on collective bargaining rights.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has said increases to salary and benefits are among the biggest sticking points in negotiations. He has said that during the most recent day of talks with the Catholic teachers, they increased what they are asking for on benefits.

In a statement Friday, Lecce said he remains committed to reaching a deal with the province's public high school teachers.

"It is time for OSSTF to return to the table with reasonable proposals that are good for students," he said. 

The union representing teachers in the French system had one day of talks scheduled Friday with the government.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2020.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press