As the clock ticked toward a strike that could close most elementary and secondary schools in Ottawa on Wednesday, parents scrambled to find care for their kids.
About 60,000 high school teachers and education workers across the province planned a one-day walk out if deals weren’t reached by midnight Tuesday night. Shortly after that, the union posted online notices that the job action would indeed take place.
“After four consecutive days at the bargaining table, during which the government advanced not one proposal addressing major issues that affect the quality of education in Ontario, teachers and education workers represented by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation began a one day, province-wide walkout at one minute after midnight this morning,” the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation wrote in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
“OSSTF/FEESO remains committed to the bargaining process and will continue to be prepared to engage in meaningful discussion about the issues that affect our students’ learning environments,” it added.
If all the workers strike, classes would be cancelled for 116,000 Ottawa students in both elementary and secondary schools at three school boards. The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and the two French-language boards advised parents to make alternative childcare arrangements just in case.
The Ottawa Catholic School Board is not affected by the strike.
Bargaining was scheduled for Tuesday, but by mid-afternoon there appeared to be confusion. OSSTF president Harvey Bischof said government negotiators had not shown up all day.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government tabled a “framework” Tuesday to OSSTF in a bid to keep all parties at the table.
If schools close, the City of Ottawa will run day camps at 13 community centres and recreation complexes for children aged four to 12. The camps cost $40, and some also offer before and after care for an extra charge.
Lecce, under intense questioning in the legislature Tuesday, repeated his assertion that the government wants a deal but that the union was being unreasonable.
Provincial governments of all political persuasions have faced “escalation” from education unions, and “parents are sick and tired of it,” he said. “Students should be in class tomorrow.”
Lecce said the “fundamental issue” at the table is wages. The government has passed legislation limiting salary increases for all public servants to one per cent a year for the next three years. OSSTF has requested an increase that reflects the cost of living, currently around two per cent.
“The request and the insistence of the teachers’ union is clear,” said Lecce. “They want a $1.5-billion increase.”
That is apparently a reference to an estimate by the province’s budget watchdog, which calculated the gap between salary increases of one per cent for all education workers in Ontario and inflation-based compensation would total $1.5 billion over three years. However, about 50,000 support workers represented by CUPE have already signed a deal with one-per-cent wage increases coupled with more funding to restore jobs that had been cut.
Late Tuesday evening, he released a statement saying he was “reaffirming my commitment to examing innovative solutions to avoid a strike.”
The minister added: “The onus is on the OSSTF to be reasonable, stay at the table, and to cancel this needless escalation that is hurting children, parents and families.”
OSSTF says wages are one issue but that they are fighting to maintain the quality of education. They oppose larger classes and mandatory online learning for high school students and want more support for high-needs students.
Four of the province’s five education unions are in tense negotiations.
Job action by public elementary and secondary teachers began last week when they withdrew some administrative services. OSSTF members have also been holding information pickets outside schools.
“We’re here for the kids,” said Jamie Vance, an early childhood educator at Hopewell Avenue Public School who was among a group of support staff handing out leaflets to passersby on Bank Street Tuesday morning.
Large classes in kindergarten are the major issue for the (ECEs) who work alongside teachers, said Vance. “We have more kids and less support for them.” Vance works in a class of 29 students, which is the maximum allowed.
Vance said the ECES, who earn about $19 to $27 an hour and are laid off during the summer months, also deserve a cost-of-living raise. “Our rents are going up. We want to keep pace with inflation.”
ECE Sharon Garvey said there are 31 students in her kindergarten class. Twice a day, when the teacher or the ECE takes a 40-minute lunch break, the students are alone in the classroom with only one adult. “It becomes a safety issue,” she said.
OSSTF represents public high school teachers as well as a variety of support staff in English and French school boards, including early childhood educators, educational assistants who work with children who have special-education, behaviour and mental health issues, office administrators, custodians and professionals like social workers.
The teachers and support staff have separate contracts and bargaining is going on for each unit separately. Therefore, whether schools close and which ones do depends on what happens with bargaining.
Ottawa-Carleton District School Board
Where to get information: The board said it would let parents know by 6 a.m. Wednesday what to expect. Parents will be sent an email and receive a phone message; information will be posted on the board website and social media feeds; and signs will be posted on school doors.
No walkout: If agreements are reached with both units, all schools will open as usual.
Full walkout: If all OSSTF members go on strike, all schools will be closed.
The closure will include regular school day activities, night school, Co-op, OYAP, dual credit courses and home-schooling as well as extracurricular activities, field trips, clubs and testing activities. It will also include extended day programs operated by the OCDSB and some operated by third-party providers (parents are asked to confirm with their provider). All community use of school permits for Dec. 4 would be cancelled.
Walkout by high school teachers only: If the support staff reach an agreement and only the high school teachers strike, all secondary schools for students in Grades 9 to 12 will close. However, students in Grades 7 and 8 at Merivale, Bell, Sir Robert Borden, Longfields-Davidson Heights and Earl of March can go to school. There will be no school bus transportation.
Walkout by support staff only: If high school teachers reach an agreement and only support staff go on strike, all schools would close.
Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CEPEO)
If there is a strike by support staff: All schools will close, as well as before and after school programs and the CEPEO’s childcare centres. However, the daycare services offered by community partners for infants, toddlers and preschool aged children will remain open.
Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est
If there is a strike by support staff: Schools and before and after school care centres will close. Daycares for preschool children will be open, except for those at
Notre-Dame Catholic Academy and École catholique catholique L’Envol, which will be closed because they are operated by members of OSSTF.
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