Ontario’s elementary school teachers’ union says it will escalate its job action next week and plans to start rotating strikes on Jan. 20 unless there is progress in contract talks with the provincial government.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said on Thursday that the government has refused to address key issues at the bargaining table, including more resources for special education and protecting the staffing model for full-day kindergarten. Starting next week, it said, members would ramp up job action by not supervising extracurricular activities outside of the regular school day and not participating in field trips.
ETFO is the province’s largest education union with 83,000 members. A strike would shutter public schools across the province, forcing thousands of families to scramble for child care. ETFO said in an e-mail that rotating strikes would affect different school boards each day, but the union did not elaborate on the duration of that job action or which boards would be affected first.
“We’re at a critical point and we firmly believe that we’re in the fight of our lives for publicly funded education,” ETFO president Sam Hammond said on Thursday, adding that “no progress” has been made over four months of bargaining. “This is not a game. [The minister] needs to realize that this not a game.”
Contracts for all education unions expired at the end of August, and only two unions have reached deals with the government.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement on Thursday that despite promises from unions not to disrupt learning, they continue to do so.
“Union leaders promised that their escalation would not impact students and their learning. Regrettably, they have again broken that promise, however we will uphold our commitment to parents to stay at the bargaining table and work as hard as it takes to reach a deal that keeps students in class,” he said.
Mr. Lecce has maintained throughout the negotiations that the main stumbling block has been wages, with the unions asking for a 2-per-cent increase in the face of the government’s wage-cap legislation meant to limit public-sector pay increases to 1 per cent.
Mr. Hammond said Thursday that his members are simply asking for cost-of-living increases in line with inflation.
He said the government’s negotiating team has failed to make a commitment at the bargaining table that the full-day kindergarten program, which includes a teacher and an early childhood educator, would remain intact, despite the minister’s assurances to the media. He said the union wants the issue of school violence against educators addressed, and more supports for special education students.
Union members have been working to rule since November, by not performing school board and government administrative tasks.
Mr. Hammond said no new talks have been scheduled.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, which represents 60,000 public high-school teachers and education workers, has been holding one-day strikes in select boards across the province as talks with the government have failed to reach a deal. At issue are class sizes, mandatory online courses and compensation.
And the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association said that it will take job action starting next week, such as not participating in standardized testing and preparing report cards. A mediator adjourned talks between the union and the government on Thursday, Mr. Lecce’s office confirmed.
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