Something has to give in the current labour stand-off between the provincial government and the four teachers unions. Since August the four unions have been without a contract and now the province is facing a perfect storm of labour strife. A general strike of all four unions is possible in no more than two weeks, which would close every elementary and secondary school in Ontario.
In the case of the OSSTF, the union’s demands include a two per cent cost-of-living wage increase per year, the end of a proposed increase to class sizes, and the end of mandatory e-learning credits to graduate.
The province argues that fiscal prudence is needed and they cannot afford these demands. That argument by Education Minister Stephen Leece is weak at best. Though playing hardball against teachers, the province is spending hundreds of millions, and risking millions more, in cancelling energy contracts like the December 9th announcement of the cancellation of the half-built Nation Rise project in North Stormont. The government cannot argue that a cost-of-living adjustment is unreasonable considering MPPs voted themselves a 20 per cent increase in their housing allowance in January. The Ford government has also appointed the largest number of parliamentary assistants ever which adds a 14.4 per cent salary increase for those MPPs affected. In fairness, MPP salaries have been frozen since 2008.
But unions arguing for a 22-student classroom have not made clear that this represents only the funding formula mandating one teacher for every 22 students. In actuality, few secondary school classrooms have such a low number. A two per cent increase in wages per year sounds nice, but ask anyone in the private sector when was the last time that they received anything close to a two per cent increase. Both parties need to settle in the middle. If the teachers unions want jobs bought back through lowering the teacher/student funding ratio, then there has to be some give somewhere else. And if the province wants to keep wage increases at a minimum, it has to give elsewhere too.
In any negotiation, a fair deal occurs when each side gives a bit, and neither side is entirely happy with the result. The province and the union are both trying to have their cake and eat it too. Neither should do so at the expense of the public education system. As strike action by all four of the provinces’ teachers looms, it is time that both sides end their dogged stalemates and come to a deal.