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Ontario Catholic teachers file for conciliation

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) has filed for conciliation as negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement have stretched nearly 18 months.

OECTA President René Jansen in de Wal says Catholic teachers in Ontario hope that a conciliator can speed up a process they have grown frustrated with, especially as other teachers' unions in Ontario settle with the provincial government.

"While the process continues to move forward – with a clear improvement in tone at the table since our overwhelming 97 per cent strike vote – realizing actual progress remains extremely slow," Jansen in de Wal said in a statement.

"Catholic teachers have been beyond patient, especially as other education affiliates reach tentative agreements. Given these agreements, we are hopeful that, with the support and expertise of an appointed conciliator, we can make more significant progress, quicker."

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation and the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario have reached deals that leave a number of items up to an arbitrator which will take submissions from both sides and come to a decision both sides need to abide by.

Algonquin and Lakeshore OECTA President Sheena Cassidy says they've opted for a conciliator to help work towards a deal rather than an arbitrator because many of the issues to be solved aren't monetary.

"It's very safe to say that we have a number of non-monetary issues that are very important to us that we want dealt with," Cassidy said.

"A couple of those would be violence in schools, mental health supports for students, and the teacher shortage."

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has accused OECTA of "dragging the puck" when it comes to agreeing to a deal.

Cassidy says while that euphemism demonstrates the Minister is very clearly not a hockey fan, it also doesn't accurately represent negotiations.

She says members have shown their growing impatience and, to stick to the Minister's attempt at hockey terms, the province needs to get itself on the ice.

"I think a 97% strike vote gives you a pretty good idea about the level of frustration among our members," Cassidy said.

"We have offered so many days over the past 18 months and have really been given not enough days to really gain momentum in bargaining... more often than not the Crown and OCSTA have come back with a day here, a day there, and that's just not sufficient."

The Ministry of Education did not return a request for comment in time for publication, but in a statement last week Lecce said it is "disappointing that OECTA has taken this next step toward a potential strike".

While OECTA and Catholic teachers wait for the Ministry of Labour to appoint a conciliator, there is another bargaining date this week and again on December 11 and 12.

Cassidy says the bargaining team of OECTA are open to coming to an agreement without a conciliator at these meetings, eliminating the need for one altogether.

She says members would love to have a tentative deal agreed upon and take a weight off before the upcoming Christmas holidays, but it has to be an acceptable deal.

"Our teachers are tired, they're worn down, they're being attacked in their classrooms and their needs to be some respect shown for the work that they do," Cassidy said.

"Now would be a good time for the government and OCSTA (Ontario Catholic Schools Trustees' Association) to show that respect and to let their employees of our Catholic Boards know that they are respected."

Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, YGK News