It is not fall yet, but Ontario teachers are starting to make good on their threat of back-to-school strike action, with English public high school teachers withdrawing from extracurricular activities on Monday.
Other announcements are likely over the next few weeks for public elementary, Catholic and French schools. Nearly a year after the province's four teachers' unions began bargaining simultaneously, each now has its own pace of negotiations and a unique plan if its talks do not improve.
Teacher contracts expired last August. Under a new bargaining system, the unions negotiate big-ticket issues such as class sizes at a central table with the province and the association of school boards and smaller issues with the individual boards. Six weeks before school resumes, talks at the central table have stalled for three out of four unions.
Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation members went on full strike at three school boards this spring. No talks have been held since May and none are planned. The union will return if it is no longer asked to discuss increasing class sizes, OSSTF spokeswoman Lori Foote said.
In the summer, an extracurricular strike will mostly affect sports teams that do pre-fall training. An internal union memo in June promised more action on top of a work-to-rule if no deal is reached.
Michael Barrett, president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association, said the OSSTF about three weeks ago requested a conciliator, who could set a date at any time.
"It's at least an effort," he said.
Elementary teachers' talks also broke off in May, and they began an administrative strike, which could escalate in the fall if there's no negotiating progress. An update is expected around Aug. 20.
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario is talking about setting bargaining dates in August, Mr. Barrett said. However, the union's prerequisites are more unrealistic than OSSTF's, with a demand that the ministry and board association remove all 13 of their starting proposals, he said.
"Really, what that means is taking all of our demands off the table so we can sit across the table and listen to what they want," Mr. Barrett said. "And that's not going to happen."
Catholic school teachers' talks broke off late last week after what their union president, Ann Hawkins, called a surprise twist. The Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association bargained for 12 days in June, and four last week, she said.
"We really thought we had a deal," she said. Oral agreements on July 7 and 8 were promising, she said, but the official proposal from the other side was so "regressive" the union walked away.
"We got mixed messages," she said.
OECTA will be in legal position to strike in August, but Ms. Hawkins said the union will not go on full strike. "Students will be back in class," she said.
Teachers at Ontario's francophone schools are still negotiating, with a conciliation meeting set for July 23 and more talks scheduled in August, said Philippe St-Amant of the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens.
"We are prepared to compromise and work through issues to reach an agreement with all of our education partners," said Education Minister Liz Sandals in a statement.