Negotiations in K-12 Education Ontario

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Negotiations in K-12 Education Ontario

Education unions in Ontario are in the midst of contract negotiations with the provincial government. Teachers and education workers had abruptly ended their last strike and settled on new contracts in the last round of bargaining because the pandemic hit in March of 2020. This 2022 round of negotiations picks up where that round left of in many ways. Right before and during the pandemic, the government imposed various arrangements such as increasing the average class size in secondary (grades 9-12) from 22 students to one teacher to 23 students to one teacher and requiring two mandatory online courses that high school students need to graduate. The destructive impacts of these changes are now being revealed as the sector returns to pre-pandemic in class learning. Class sizes have increased drastically, both due to the increased class average and the expectation that students will be taking online courses to graduate, which have a class size average of 30 students to 1 teacher.

A major issue in these negotiations, particularly for education workers who, on average make roughly $39,000 per year, is their dwindling wages in the face of ongoing legislated wage freezes and inflation. Wage cuts have been imposed on the entire sector by successive governments in Ontario using legislation that limits wage increase to well below inflation. This has meant 11 years of losses in wages. In this respect, education workers organized into the Canadian Union of Public Employees – Ontario School Board Council of Unions (CUPE-OSBCU) have taken a stand to demand, amongst other important improvements for their members and the students they serve, an increase of $3.25 per hour in each of year of the contract so that they can start to catch up with inflation and make up lost ground. One of the main issues CUPE-OSBCU is trying to address is preventing people from leaving their fields en masse because they cannot afford the low pay.

On October 3, CUPE-OSBCU announced that 45,433 of its 55,000 members (representing 82.6% of their total membership) voted 96.5% in favour of a strike mandate for their bargaining team. 1. The OSBCU’s membership includes, among other job classes: education assistants, school library workers, administrative assistants, custodians and tradespeople, early childhood educators, child and youth workers, instructors, nutrition service workers, school safety monitors and social workers.

In response to this overwhelming mandate, the government is doubling down on its rhetoric trying to set up a fight. Ironically this government is making such statements having garnered votes from only 18% of Ontarians, well below the participation or mandate given to CUPE-OSBCU’s bargaining team.

On October 7 following the vote, instead of negotiating, the government and school boards demanded CUPE-OSBCU make “dramatic and substantial changes” to their bargaining package. CUPE-OSBCU stated it will instead be seeking to file a “no board report”, which means that if a conciliator grants the “no board report”, CUPE-OSBCU will be in a legal strike position 17 days after getting the report.

On September 23, The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) stated that all parties at the bargaining table had agreed to all terms for their teacher/occasional teacher central table, except on the issue of hiring. ETFO is arguing hiring should be negotiated at the central table and the other parties did not agree. As a result, ETFO announced it was filing an application with the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) on this issue.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) and l’Association des enseignantes et enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) report they have begun formal negotiations with the government and their board/trustee associations, after having agreed to the bargaining terms of the central table.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) submitted notice to bargain over the summer.

How the Negotiations Work

There are different negotiation tables for education sector negotiations in Ontario split by job class (teacher/occasional teacher and education worker) as well as by union representing that job class. Each education union has separate meetings with the government and respective trustees’ associations and school boards associations. This is what is called central bargaining. Once this central bargaining has completed – up to and including the respective union’s membership approving the agreement – unions in each school board begin the second round of bargaining known as local bargaining.