Ontario secondary school teachers have voted in favour of a bargaining proposal with the province that could include the process of binding interest arbitration, but not a strike, to resolve outstanding issues.
Members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) voted 78.4 per cent in favour of the proposal, the union said Wednesday.
In a news release, President Karen Littlewood said the vote approves a "proposal that will put all unresolved items before an independent, third-party arbitrator."
The vote, open to all members in the school board sector, was held over three weeks.
"For over 14 months, we have tried to engage the Ford government in good faith bargaining but we haven't had a partner at the table that cares about safeguarding our public education system. Now we have the opportunity to bypass traditional bargaining pathways to secure a fair collective agreement," she said.
Bargaining for teachers and occasional teachers and education workers will continue until Oct. 27. After that, any matters not yet settled will be put before an arbitrator, the release said. Local bargaining across the province will continue until March 28, 2024, at which time all remaining items not yet settled may be sent to arbitration.
According to the release, the proposal means there will be no strikes or lockouts during this round of bargaining. Any items that cannot be settled at bargaining tables will be sent to arbitration.
Littlewood said the union's top priority is to get the "best possible deal" for OSSTF members.
"Learning and working conditions across the province have deteriorated under the Ford government, staffing and retention have languished, and students are unable to access the supports and resources they need to succeed as a result of this government's deliberate underfunding of education and shortchanging of students. We cannot allow this to continue."
Karen Littlewood, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, says: 'For over 14 months, we have tried to engage the Ford government in good faith bargaining but we haven't had a partner at the table that cares about safeguarding our public education system. Now we have the opportunity to bypass traditional bargaining pathways to secure a fair collective agreement.' (Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation)
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) Toronto Teachers' Bargaining Unit Executive, which represents Toronto high school teachers, had opposed the proposal.
In a message to its members in early September, the bargaining unit had said: "We have concerns about voluntarily entering into a binding arbitration process that eliminates our right to strike or take other job actions such as selective withdrawal of services.
"The ability to strike or withdraw services is one of the cornerstones of the labour movement and has been hard fought over the years. To voluntarily give up that right has the potential to set a dangerous precedent for education workers and the entire labour movement."
Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement on Wednesday evening he is pleased by the vote and the proposal will provide stability.
"I am very pleased that the members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation have voted in favour of this deal that keeps kids in class. We came together to put 400,000 English public high school students first, and as a result, a student who started high school last year will now graduate in three years without the threat of strikes," Lecce said in the statement.
"This will allow students to focus on their studies as our government ensures school boards get back to basics," he added. "This is a significant step forward in providing stability for high school students. I believe strongly that every student deserves this certainty.
"With the approval of this agreement, I am calling on all outstanding education unions to reach a deal and end the delay. Nothing should matter more than students being in class and benefiting from uninterrupted learning for the next three years, with an enhanced focus on reading, writing and math."
According to OSSTF, the proposal is a pathway that will allow members to receive a remedy for wages lost under Bill 124.
The OSSTF has about 60,000 members, representing educational assistants, continuing education teachers and instructors, psychologists, secretaries, speech-language pathologists, social workers, plant support personnel, attendance counselors and other education professionals.