TORONTO – Three Ontario school boards where high school teachers have been on strike for weeks, affecting more than 70,000 students, are asking for the job actions to be declared illegal.
In Durham Region, where secondary teachers are into their fourth week on strike, the board said it “strongly believes” it is unlawful.
The boards believe the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation is staging local strikes central issues. That is not allowed under a new bargaining system the Liberal government introduced last year. It separates local and central negotiating, with issues such as money and class sizes being discussed at the provincial table.
The Durham District School Board, east of Toronto, the Rainbow District School Board, in the Sudbury area, and the Peel District School Board, west of Toronto, are filing a joint application to the Ontario Labour Relations Board, asking it to declare the strikes unlawful.
“We’ve said, from the beginning, what we know is true: that provincial OSSTF is setting the agenda for local bargaining and that this local strike is part of their overall provincial strategy,” Peel District School Board chair Janet McDougald said in a statement.
The president of the Durham local of the OSSTF was “shocked” to learn about the application through media reports and said it’s indicative of how bargaining has gone so far.
“It’s very condescending,” said Dave Barrowclough.
“They’ve taken away our ability to bargain. That’s what this is really all about. They refuse to bargain with us at a local table without a provincial deal in place.”
The Durham teachers have put a “whole host” of local issues on the table that the board won’t discuss, Barrowclough said. But the head of the Durham school board said the only issues he’ll refuse to discuss at the bargaining table are ones that properly belong at the central table.
“We are not going to discuss provincial issues a the local table,” said Michael Barrett. “We absolutely refuse to. Any other issue, we’re certainly willing to discuss, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to acquiesce to every single demand put on the table.”
The board is still considering whether to apply for a ruling that their students’ school year is in jeopardy.
The head of the Rainbow board said in a statement that there are misconceptions that the board is trying to increase class sizes, limit prep time and freeze salaries at the local table.
“Those issues are not part of the local negotiation process. They are central issues,” chair Doreen Dewar wrote.
“We have maintained from the outset that our students and their families are caught in a dispute that is really between OSSTF and the province.”
Central talks between OSSTF and the province are stalled.
Ontario’s public elementary school teachers began a work-to-rule strike Monday. During their job action schools will remain open and extracurricular activities and field trips continue for now, but teachers won’t administer standardized tests, add comments to report cards or participate in any professional development related to Ministry of Education initiatives.
By Allison Jones, The Canadian Press