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Public high school teachers reach tentative agreement with province

Last Updated Aug 20, 2015 at 1:01 pm EDT

After months of negotiations, there is hope for Ontario’s public high school students.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) reached a tentative agreement with the province and the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA), the union said Thursday.

The news was posted on the OSSTF Facebook page.

No details about the deal were announced, but it must be endorsed by the union’s local leaders before it is presented to all members for ratification. The union said that meeting will take place later this week, but the exact day has not been revealed.

The province’s 60,000 public high school teachers were in talks with the province on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I’ve been optimistic all along because I know that teachers and support staff want to be in school,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said on Thursday.

In a statement, Education Minister Liz Sandals said negotiations “were challenging for all sides,” but that it “speaks to the dedication and commitment of everyone involved that collaboration prevailed and a tentative agreement was reached.”

OSSTF president Paul Elliott welcomed the deal after his members went a full year without a contract, but warned the union was still trying to get a deal for school support staff.

“We did prevail,” Elliott told union members at a meeting in Ottawa. “As much as this has been a frustrating year for our teachers and occasional teacher members and leaders, our frustration over support staff bargaining is even deeper.”

“It took 29 frustrating days at the bargaining table, the assistance of three different mediators and an entire calendar year to finally get the management team to move off of their radical management rights agenda and come to an agreement, an agreement that in reality we should have achieved months ago.”

The OSSTF is not the only union in negotiations with the province. Ontario is also negotiating with its public elementary teachers’ union and the union representing Catholic elementary and high school teachers. The contracts for all Ontario teachers expired last August and there has been no resolution, with classes set to start on Sept. 8.

Wynne said the OSSTF deal proves the negotiation process works.

“What we said could happen at the table has happened,” she said. “We have some other groups that we are now in conversation with, but this is a very significant and happy day in terms of getting our kids back to school.”

Province should brace for ‘fight of your lives,’ teachers’ union warns

On Thursday, the head of the province’s public elementary teachers’ union revealed the second phase of its work-to-rule campaign, which will roll out the first day of school.

Sam Hammond addressed more than 800 delegates during the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario’s (ETFO) annual meeting in Toronto.

Hammond said teachers won’t participate in any field trips, fundraising activities, meeting or training sessions, professional development sessions or respond to any electronic communications from the principal or vice-principal outside the school day except where student safety is involved.

“We will not at this time ask our members to stop their voluntary extracurricular activities,” he said.

Earlier this week, Hammond warned that the province and schools boards should prepare for the fight of their lives when negotiations resume. He reiterated that sentiment once again on Thursday.

“If we cannot get a deal at that table and get it sooner rather than later, as I said on Monday, OPSBA [and the] Liberal government, you are in for the fight of your lives,” the union head said.

ETFO, which represents 76,000 teachers, is set to return to the bargaining table on Sept. 1. By that time, union members will have been without a contract for a year.

The union has been in a legal strike position since May 10.

Last week, Sandals warned the unions that they can’t unilaterally decide what job actions they’ll take if there are no deals when school resumes and call it a work-to-rule campaign.

Meanwhile, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), which was in a legal strike position as of Monday, is expected to resume bargaining on Thursday, and continue into Friday, and Monday and Tuesday of next week.

OECTA officials said work-to-rule action will begin on the teachers’ first paid date back to work, which is this week for teachers in some northern regions. There’s no word yet on what that action will be or if it will take place despite the negotiations.

Members of OECTA, which represents 50,000 teachers, have been without a contract for more than a year.