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Canada Ontario elementary teachers’ union mulls one-day rotating strikes

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), says if the strikes do happen, there's no telling how much warning parents would receive.

Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ontario elementary teachers' union leaders, angry about a tell-all news release from a bargaining partner, are debating whether to begin the one-day rotating strikes they threatened last month.

"We're going to have to make some significant decisions tonight or tomorrow morning," Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, said late Wednesday afternoon.

If the one-day strikes do begin, there's no telling how much warning parents would receive, Mr. Hammond said. "I'm not going to give anyone guarantees."

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Mr. Hammond said bargaining has been jeopardized by a Wednesday afternoon news release from the Ontario Public School Boards Association that detailed how much progress has been made in contract talks with ETFO, and what is left to do.

The board association has been taking part in the three-way talks with ETFO and the Ministry of Education. This is Ontario's first round of teacher bargaining under new legislation that centralizes the process, asking unions to settle major financial issues at a single bargaining table rather than with each school board.

ETFO's talks broke off on Friday, with the union saying it wanted management to put forward a revised position. Bargaining is supposed to take place under a media blackout.

OPSBA's news release said it was waiting for ETFO to decide whether to settle two final "important issues" along the lines of what other teachers' unions have already accepted. The union, the release said, has tentatively agreed on salaries, class sizes, hiring practices, teachers' preparation and supervision time, as well as the majority of other "substantive matters."

The only two "important issues" left to negotiate are sick leave and benefits, OPSBA said, adding that ETFO has been offered the same deal on both issues that other teachers' unions have already accepted.

About an hour later, Mr. Hammond and at least 100 ETFO executives walked from a meeting they were holding in downtown Toronto to protest loudly outside OPSBA's office on University Avenue.

"Honestly, in 30 years of doing this, I have never seen this happen before," Mr. Hammond said. "They release almost word for word what's being done at that table," he said. "We made significant progress over the last five days up until Friday, and we were all working together."

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OPSBA chose to "play a game" rather than continue negotiating, Mr. Hammond added.

"I hope that what we've been able to accomplish at the table stays the way it is, but I have to tell you, I don't know where this bargaining is going," he said. "I can't trust them."

An OPSBA spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

In September, the Ministry of Education put out a news release revealing that it had made a contract offer to ETFO that was parallel to what other unions had accepted. Ontario's public high school teachers and Catholic school teachers have ratified deals, and francophone teachers have reached a tentative deal they have yet to ratify.

After talks stalled, ETFO filed a complaint to the Ontario Labour Relations Board that the government was bargaining in bad faith.

The union will file another complaint to the labour board over OPSBA's news release, Mr. Hammond said.

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