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Toronto teachers bargaining unit opposes binding arbitration to avoid strike


The bargaining unit representing Toronto high school teachers say they oppose a tentative deal with the province that would see a strike avoided through the use of voluntary binding arbitration.

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

Members of the OSSTF will vote on whether to accept this agreement on Sept. 8 and Sept. 27.

The OSSTF Toronto Teachers’ Bargaining Unit Executive released a memo to members on Sept. 7 saying they oppose the use of voluntary binding arbitration.

“We have concerns about voluntarily entering into a binding arbitration process that eliminates our right to strike or take other job actions such as selective withdrawal of services,” the executive wrote in the memo.

“The ability to strike or withdraw services is one of the cornerstones of the labour movement and has been hard fought over the years. To voluntarily give up that right has the potential to set a dangerous precedent for education workers and the entire labour movement.”

They also argue that the use of binding arbitration takes away the rights of members to vote on the final agreement.

“Our aim is not to direct Members how to vote, but to share our concerns so they can make their own informed decision,” the Toronto bargaining executive wrote.

Similar arguments were made by Ontario’s three other teacher’s unions, who rejected the government’s offer.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said in late August that it is moving forward with the next steps and requesting conciliation, a formal mediation process in which a third party is brought in to work with both sides and help find a resolution.

It’s a common process prior to union members engaging in any strikes or work action.

But OSSTF President Karen Littlewood told CTV News Toronto the idea of binding arbitration was “welcome.”

“To have an arbitrator there, we believe it would be like having another adult in the room and we would actually be able to make some progress,” she said after a town hall with members Thursday.

“We were bargaining today and I have to say there was a slightly different tone at the table and that's greatly appreciated. And now we need to get some momentum.”

Littlewood said that OSSTF has five bargaining dates on the books in September and another six in October.

If members vote against accepting the tentative deal, Littlewood said they will likely be going ahead with strike votes or “some other type of pressure” to come to a deal, But she is hopeful this won’t be the case.

After 14 months of bargaining, we should have been able to make some progress. We have a government who's really been unwilling to engage in the bargaining process and we're hoping that members will say yes, this is a possibility and this is the best way forward.”

A spokesperson for Education Minister Steven Lecce reiterated their call Thursday to other unions to agree to their binding arbitration framework.

“While we will respect the ratification process, our government is determined to keep kids in class for the next three years without the threat of strikes,” Grace Lee said in a statement.

“We call on all remaining unions to agree to this framework to provide stability to Ontario parents with three uninterrupted years of learning for their children.”

Teachers and some educational workers have been without a contract for over a year. Top Stories

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