The Ontario government has reached a tentative agreement with the elementary public teachers’ union, averting any job action over the next three years.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said on Tuesday that the tentative deal between his government, school boards and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the largest education union in the province, will provide stability for students, if ratified.
“When we work together, when we put children first, we can land deals that provide certainty for families and keep these kids in school,” Mr. Lecce said at a news conference at Queen’s Park.
Mr. Lecce wouldn’t divulge details of the deal. However, he said that outstanding items will be decided through third-party binding arbitration.
ETFO members will receive details on the agreement later this week, and a ratification vote is being scheduled.
Karen Brown, president of the ETFO, said she was “pleased with the improvements” that the union was able to secure.
Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said that although details of the deal are confidential until ratified, it underscores the “important service” teachers provide to students.
The contracts for all of Ontario’s education unions, including teachers’ unions, expired in August, 2022. The tentative agreement between ETFO, the government and school boards is for a four-year contract.
ETFO represents about 83,000 elementary teachers and occasional teachers, as well as early childhood workers, education support personnel and professional support personnel.
The union reached an agreement with the government and school boards for its 3,500 education workers. Last month, members voted 80 per cent in favour of accepting a four-year agreement, which included a wage increase of $1 an hour. This would mean a 4.2-per-cent increase for an education worker earning $39,000 a year.
The government has urged the teachers’ unions to enter binding arbitration, which would mean no strikes or lockouts, because any items not agreed on at the bargaining table would be sent to a third-party arbitrator.
Earlier this fall, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation said its members approved a proposal to use binding arbitration, if needed, to reach a new contract with the government.
ETFO, along with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens, rejected the proposal. The unions said their items, which include preventing violence in schools and supports for special-needs students, would not be addressed through binding arbitration.
Instead, ETFO asked to work with a conciliator appointed by the Minister of Labour.
Asked on Tuesday about the lengthy process to reach a deal and what broke the logjam, Mr. Lecce said that some of the teachers unions are “reading the room a bit better today than in the past” and recognizing families don’t want disruptions.
He urged the Catholic and French teachers unions to “end the delay” and sign deals.
René Jansen in de Wal, president of OECTA, blamed the government for dragging out negotiations for over a year. He said that bargaining only began in earnest last month after Catholic teachers voted 97 per cent in favour of a strike if a new deal is not reached.
“I’m disappointed that the ministry and the board wasted a year and literally got only serious about bargaining after we took a strike vote,” Mr. Jansen in de Wal said. He added that the parties have made “some progress” at the bargaining table, and further discussions are scheduled for next week.
Opposition NDP Leader Marit Stiles said she would wait for a ratification vote from ETFO before commenting on the deal. But she said Mr. Lecce needed to stop making comments targeting other unions still in talks.
“We’ll look and see what the outcome is in terms of the education workers themselves, whether they vote to support the deal,” Ms. Stiles told reporters at Queen’s Park. “My concern is that the minister continues to ramp things up and point fingers. That’s how we always get to a bad place. … We need to ensure that we are showing education workers in this province respect.”
With a report from Jeff Gray