Three teachers' unions should agree to a deal with the province that avoids a strike, Ontario's education minister said Monday.
Stephen Lecce said he wants those unions to take the same agreement the province came to last week with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, which represents English high school teachers.
"We're going to ... get this deal done as soon as possible so we can move forward with predictability for families that their kids are going to be in school for three straight years of uninterrupted learning," Lecce said.
That deal with the OSSTF would, if ratified by members, see bargaining continue until Oct. 27, at which point any outstanding issues would be settled by binding arbitration, thereby avoiding a strike.
Lecce said he wants to make the same deal with the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association and the union for teachers in the French system, the AEFO.
He is set to meet with two of those unions this week and the other next week.
Lecce said he wants the other unions to move quickly on negotiations.
"This should not take long," he said.
The union representing teachers in the French system said Monday that the pace of negotiations had been unacceptably slow and it wasn't ready to agree to a deal involving binding arbitration.
"Before any discussion on binding arbitration with the government, we want to have in-depth discussions on topics and issues that are still unresolved," Anne Vinet-Roy, president of AEFO, wrote in a statement.
If the next round of bargaining dates, set for Aug 30-31 and Sept. 1 does not address unresolved issues, the union will "evaluate all possible options to move negotiations forward more quickly," Vinet-Roy wrote.
The union is not ruling out calling a strike vote, she said.
Both the elementary teachers' and the Catholic teachers' unions are already planning strike votes for the fall.
The president of the Catholic teachers' union took umbrage on Monday with Lecce's comments.
"Catholic teachers would appreciate if Minister Lecce and the Ford Conservative government did more talking at the bargaining table, and less talking in the media," president René Jansen in de Wal wrote in a statement.
The union has had just 30 bargaining meetings with the province over the course of 450 days since it filed notice to begin negotiations – an average of two meetings per month, he said.
"We still have not finalized the scope of central items to be bargained," he said.
ETFO declined to comment on Monday.
The three unions had said Friday in a joint statement they were not currently considering the province's proposal. They said Premier Doug Ford's government has bargained little since their current deal expired last year.
"The Ford Conservative government has continually refused to engage in substantive discussions with our unions, despite our many attempts to make progress at our respective bargaining tables," the unions said.
The three unions said they want to have meaningful discussions on issues such as increased violence in schools, mental-health supports and addressing the teacher shortage.
They said binding arbitration "would all but guarantee" the key issues brought forward at the bargaining table would not be addressed.
The OSSTF said the proposal from the province would give its members a remedy for "wages lost" under a wage restraint law known as Bill 124.
That 2019 law capped salary increases for teachers and other public-sector workers to one per cent a year for three years. It was ruled unconstitutional by an Ontario court, but the government has appealed.
Last year, the province agreed to a deal with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents education workers, to provide a 3.59 per cent raise annually.
That deal only came after the province rammed through legislation that took away the workers' right to strike. The province walked that law back after a massive provincewide walkout that shuttered schools for two days.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 28, 2023.
Liam Casey, The Canadian Press