Ontario's high school teachers are poised to walk off the job if contract negotiations with Premier Doug Ford's government remain stalled.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) released results of a provincewide strike vote Monday afternoon. Teachers and occasional teachers backed strike action by 95.5 per cent, while 92 per cent of education workers also supported the possible walkout.
The union, which represents about 60,000 teachers and education workers across Ontario, is in a legal strike position, but must give notice of five days before members begin any job action.
"Our members are committed to defending the quality of education in Ontario against a government that is determined to undermine it," said OSSTF president Harvey Bischof.
Earlier Monday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce called on Ontario's teachers' unions to enter into mediation, as the Catholic teachers joined a number of other unions by taking another step toward a potential strike.
Disagreements remain at the table on key issues, including compensation, Lecce said, and having an independent, third party would help reach deals. The offer comes as Lecce accused the unions of escalating the labour dispute.
"I think when you speak to families though, they perhaps wouldn't see escalation today or over the last several weeks — every week without exception, pretty much — as particularly constructive to keeping the parties at the table," he said.
"My interest is to get a good deal for kids that keeps them in school ... I can't be the only person in the room who gets the sense that there's a trajectory that some unions are on right now. That is a fair point. If we know that's their trajectory, how can I help stem that?"
Bischof disagreed with Lecce's account of the negotiations, saying: "Frankly, there is no deal in sight."
The union says wages, class sizes, course offerings and supports for students with special needs are among its key issues at the bargaining table.
OSSTF, Ontario and regional school boards are scheduled to continue their negotiations until Thursday this week.
Ontario's Catholic teachers said Monday they have filed a request for conciliation in their talks, which is one step in the process toward being in a legal strike position.
The government is insisting on drastic cuts, and has demonstrated "a total lack of understanding or respect for the bargaining process," the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association said in a statement.
"Catholic school board trustees have come to the table prepared to work constructively, but the government side is in complete chaos," president Liz Stuart wrote.
"Since this round of bargaining began, the government has been going out of its way to derail the process. They have made comments through the media that have had a detrimental effect on negotiations, introduced regulations and legislation that violate our collective bargaining rights, and played games with the public to muddy the issues and deflect blame."
Unions taking steps toward strikes
Negotiations between the province and the education unions started on tense terms a few months ago amid government moves to increase class sizes, and recent legislation limiting raises for all public sector workers to one per cent per year for three years has further angered teachers.
Three of Ontario's four largest teachers' unions are taking steps toward potential strikes as they negotiate with the government for new contracts.
Elementary teachers are set to start a work-to-rule campaign on Nov. 26 that they say will target ministry and school board administrative tasks and will not affect student learning.
Negotiations between the province and French teachers continue.