MUSKOKA, ON-The Minister of Education addresses the OSSTF’s rotating one-day strikes.

In a press briefing on December 10th, Education Minister Stephen Lecce talked about the progress they have made dealing with the school boards and the unions affected by the strike, across Ontario.

While tentative agreements have been made with The Education Worker’s Alliance of Ontario (EWAO) and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the OSSTF continues to strike until their requests are met.

The agreement with the EWAO and CUPE will allow students to stay in class while ensuring all parties involved, achieved their own priorities.

In an interview with the MyMuskokaNow.com newsroom, OSSTF President Harvey Bischof, says that what the Minister has been saying about their negotiations is wrong. “I find it astounding that the Minister has been feeding these false accusations about the organization when we have tried to be accommodating.”

Lecce noted that the government has offered the OSSTF private meditation in order to resolve this strike as quickly as possible. According to the minster however, the union has “dug their heels in” and will only consider mediation if they are granted their pay raise of 2-percent a year.

Bischof said however that is not the case. “We already have mediation going and making it private is not going to make a difference.” Bischof went on to mention that the $200 million is not just for their teachers, it will also go to their various types of support staff.

The Minister claimed that the “damage” that would come from giving the OSSTF what they are asking for, would cost $1.5 billion. This is taking into account that the government would have to make changes to the education funding system that is currently in place.

During the media conference, Lecce repeatedly brought up that he was concerned about the $1.5 billion that would cost the fiscal framework that was already established for the year. “We cannot grant leeway with the OOSTF because if we were to do so, then everyone would want a raise,” said Lecce.

Bischof clarified that the $1.5 billion would impact across all of the education sectors. “I am not sure why they are using this number to reflect where we are with our negotiations where we are only seeking $200 million, I am not bargaining for the other unions, I am here for our members,” said Bischof.

When asked about the class sizes returning to 22 students to one teacher ratio and the reduction of e-learning, Lecce did not give a clear answer and repeated himself by saying that government was committed to providing good education and keeping students in class. “Repeated escalation at the expense of our students’ education, to advance higher compensation, higher wages and even more generous benefits, is unacceptable for parents and students in our province,” said Lecce

When asked about the “generous benefits” that Lecce mentioned, Bischof laughed and said that they were only asking for the same benefits they had a year ago.

Lecce claimed that OSSTF teachers on average “make over $92,000 per year and are the second highest paid in the nation.”

Bischof said that this number was inaccurate as the teachers make approximately $86,000.

Lecce went on to say that the overall cost including clauses that the OSSTF are requesting at the end of three years will be $7 billion but did not go into much detail about how it would be broken down.

“I am not sure where the Minister is pulling this $7 billion because we have asked to see evidence that this would be the case and they have not provided it,” said Bischof.

The minister ended his address by mentioning that the government has done all they can for now and are waiting to hear from the OSSTF.

Bschof said that the government and their representatives have been making the bargaining difficult for them and that they seem fixed on maintaining the “eroded level of education” rather than restoring it to where it was a year ago.

“Despite MPP Fedeli and Minister Lecce commenting and painting us in a negative light, I have not seen either at the bargaining table,” said Bischof.