TORONTO — The Ontario government has brought a contentious round of bargaining with the province’s teachers to an end, reaching a tentative deal with the final major union without a contract.
The province and Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation announced the tentative agreement Monday, bringing to a close a round of negotiations highlighted by strikes and walkouts.
Union president Harvey Bischof said the teachers did not get everything they wanted in the agreement, but the deal will provide stability in the province’s schools, which have been shuttered because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While this tentative agreement does not satisfy all of our concerns, we recognize the current environment we are in and the need for students to have stability once this emergency is over,” Bischof said.
Bischof said the public health crisis changed the dynamics around the talks.
“These are extraordinary times,” he said in a statement. “When we began negotiations nearly a year ago, no one could have anticipated the situation we face today.”
In recent months, the province has reached tentative contracts with three other teachers’ unions: the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the deal advances the priorities of both parents and students.
“During this entire process, our aim was to ensure our young people receive the best education we can offer, so they can develop the skills they need to succeed in the classroom and in the jobs of the future,” he said in a statement Monday.
Details of the tentative agreement were not immediately available, but the union’s 60,000 members could vote on it early next month.
The union returned to the table with the government in April after only conducting informal talks since December.
OSSTF had previously said it was fighting against the Progressive Conservative government’s moves to increase class sizes and mandatory online learning — proposals the Tories largely reversed several months ago.
Lecce maintained the talks were about compensation, with the government offering teachers a one per cent salary increase and the teachers’ asking for approximately two per cent.
Last month, The Canadian Press obtained a memo of highlights that the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario sent to its members about the tentative contract deal it recently reached with the provincial government.
Ontario’s elementary teachers have agreed to salary increases of one per cent a year for three years, but will get higher benefit increases than the government originally sought.
The government had previously said it would not budge beyond an offer to increase both wages and benefits by one per cent per year, but ETFO secured four per cent annual increases to benefits.
The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association also agreed to one per cent on salary and four per cent on benefits, according to a confidential memo obtained by The Canadian Press.
The OECTA deal also agrees to average high school class sizes of 23 — up from 22 last year. The government came out with that offer — down significantly from its original target of 28 — shortly before the deal was reached.
The deal also includes opt-out provisions for e-learning courses.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2020.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press