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OSSTF members approve deal to avoid strike through binding arbitration

Ontario public high school teachers voted in favour of a deal with the province and their union that would see a strike avoided through the use of voluntary binding arbitration.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) met with the province late August and came to a bargaining agreement. As part of the negotiations, if no collective agreement could be reached by Oct. 27, a third party would be brought in to make the final decisions on unresolved issues.

Members, from education workers to teachers, had the chance to vote on the proposal from Sept. 7 up until Wednesday.

"I am very pleased that the Ontario School Teachers' Federation members have voted in favour of this deal that keeps kids in class," Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement following the announcement.

"We came together to put 400,000 English public high school students first, and as a result, a student who started high school last year will now graduate in three years without the threat of strikes."

The OSSTF adopted the proposal with just over 78 per cent of its members support. The approved proposal guarantees there will be no strikes or lockouts while at the bargaining table with the province during this round of negotiations, as anything that cannot be agreed upon will be sent to arbitration.

"We are proud to announce that after a three-week long vote, open to all Members in the school board sector, OSSTF/FEESO Members have voted to approve a proposal that will put all unresolved items before an independent, third-party arbitrator," OSSTF/FEESO President Karen Littlewood said in a release.

"Premier Ford can't be trusted. For over 14 months, we have tried to engage the Ford government in good faith bargaining but we haven't had a partner at the table that cares about safeguarding our public education system. Now we have the opportunity to bypass traditional bargaining pathways to secure a fair collective agreement."

Speaking to CTV News Toronto following the announcement, Littlewood said it has been "significantly different" at the bargaining table.

"I think this is really positive, but it was all contingent on our members that they support this pathway, and they resoundingly said that this evening," Littlewood said.

"When you have a really strong government with a number of seats they don't have to do anything, but they have come to the table now bargaining and they're willing to let an arbitrator decide, and I think that's because of all of the scandals with the Greenbelt, with resignations of ministers, and they need a good news story and we need a good news story for education and education workers," she added.

Just last week, the province reached a tentative agreement with the 3,500 education workers represented by the Elementary Teachers' Federation (ETFO), though an agreement still remains to be made with the 80,000 teachers and occasional teacher members part of the union.

"I think we're moving in the right direction," Lecce previously told CP24, when asked about striking a deal with the teachers.

"The government has put forth interest arbitration as an option. If we can agree, we have a fair, independent system to render an outcome that avoids a strike and that's my priority." 

With files from Katherine DeClerq and Siobhan Morris Top Stories

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