The union that represents public high school teachers in Ontario told students and parents to get ready for a one-day strike on Wednesday unless it reaches a tentative agreement with the provincial government before midnight.
“Prepare for a strike tomorrow,” Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), told reporters on Tuesday. “We will be back in class on Thursday.”
Bischof accused Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce of “inflaming” the situation. Earlier on Tuesday evening, Lecce called a news conference to demand that the union cancel the one-day strike. The union represents 60,000 members.
Bischof said the government has not presented any new proposals in the past four days of bargaining at a downtown Toronto hotel. He said “the odds are sadly slim” that both sides are likely to reach any kind of agreement by the strike deadline of midnight.
For his part, Lecce said the strike would be “needless escalation.”
“My message to parents, on the eve of potential job action, is that our government has remained reasonable at the negotiating table, with the objective of keeping students in class,” Lecce told reporters on Tuesday.
The union says it is fighting to reverse cuts the government has made in the province’s classrooms — cuts that it says are harming students’ ability to get a good education.
But the minister says since the Ontario government first began bargaining, the union has not made any “substantive moves” to reach a deal. He said the union is insisting on a $1.5-billion increase in pay and benefits.
“To assert that it is not about compensation is preposterous,” Lecce said.
“The onus is on OSSTF to be reasonable, stay at the table, and to cancel this needless escalation that is hurting children, parents, and families.”
Lecce was expected to provide an update on bargaining talks between the province and union but used the opportunity to criticize the union.
Contract talks appeared to be at a standstill on Tuesday ahead of the possible one-day strike that could close many schools across the province.
Earlier, Lecce had said his bargaining team had presented a new “framework” to negotiators for the OSSTF in an attempt to keep all parties at the table. But the union disputed that.
Both sides are bargaining at the Sheraton Centre Hotel in downtown Toronto.