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Ontario’s elementary school teachers will be taking “central strike action” in 32 public school boards next week.

The tally for the Ontario government's secret payments to teacher unions has reached more than $3.7-million after the province on Friday released payout figures for previous rounds of bargaining.

The revelation came the same day tensions in the province's classroom labour battle ratcheted up: Premier Kathleen Wynne threatened to dock elementary teachers' pay if they do not end a work-to-rule campaign by Nov. 1, and Toronto high-school teachers vowed to start working to rule if they cannot reach a deal with the school board by Nov. 4.

The Liberal government's practice of giving money directly to teacher unions to cover expenses during collective bargaining came to light earlier week when The Globe and Mail uncovered payouts of $1-million each to the high-school teachers' and Catholic teachers' unions, plus $500,000 for francophone teachers in this year's bargaining.

On Friday at 4 p.m., after two days of questions from reporters on other payments, the government released further figures.

  • Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation received $200,000 in 2012, $400,000 in 2008 and $1-million this round.
  • The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association got $1-million this year, but nothing in the previous two rounds.
  • The smaller Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens got $170,000 in 2012 and $10,000 in 2008, plus this year’s $500,000.
  • The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents support staff, received $181,000 in 2012 and $280,000 in 2008.
  • The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario took no money in 2008 and 2012, and has said it would not accept any in this round of talks, either.

The payouts began when the province started getting directly involved in negotiations in 2004 instead of leaving everything to school boards. The extra level of talks added more expenses for unions, and the government agreed to compensate them. Education Minister Liz Sandals has admitted she did not receive receipts or other itemization to prove what the money was spent on, but gave several examples of possible expenses, such as ordering pizza for union officials during bargaining sessions.

Ms. Wynne on Friday said the payouts are just the cost of settling labour disputes. "This is a $20-billion-plus enterprise. There is a cost associated with coming to agreement. From my perspective, it is extremely important that we get these negotiations concluded."

OSSTF president Paul Elliott defended the payments, saying they are routine and go back years.

"It happens locally, it happens provincially... it is part of the process. It's been part of the process as long as I've been doing this and it's really nothing new," he said. "No, it's not a sweetener. It's part of the whole complete bargaining process."

Asked how much the government has paid his union in previous rounds of talks, he said: "I would have to go and check that, but it's part of the same thing that we've always done." Asked if he would make that information public, he said: "No. I won't commit to getting those numbers."

Critics argue that, since unions collect member dues to fund collective bargaining, it should not be up to taxpayers to cover their expenses.

"They're saying this is $1-million to buy 50,000 pizzas," Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said. "It's disrespectful to taxpayers. The government's arguments don't add up. To put context to what $1-million could buy: That's the government's breakfast program for 4,000 classes for a week."

Also on Friday, Ms. Wynne met in her Queen's Park office with the presidents of ETFO and the support staff unions to present them with an ultimatum: If they do not end their work-to-rule by Nov. 1, the government will give school boards the right to impose new wages and working conditions on teachers and support staff with five days' notice.

"Activities that are important to students and parents, such as report cards, are not being done. This cannot go on," she said after the meeting. "After that notice period of five days, management could respond to the withdrawal in services with a commensurate reduction in pay or other changes in the terms of employment."

ETFO president Sam Hammond said his union will sit down to bargain with the province immediately, but will continue its work to rule. Currently, elementary teachers are refusing to provide comments on report cards or conduct parent-teacher interviews. Starting next week, they will withdraw all voluntary services, such as running sports teams or clubs. "What we asked for, and what we've been trying to get, is a very respectful negotiated settlement."

CUPE president Fred Hahn said the school boards have not given his negotiators any times to sit down and bargain.

"Arbitrary dates and threats do not help in the bargaining process," he said. "If there are eight days left, they better be available every one of those eight days to bargain with our members to get a fair agreement. We need partners on the other side of the table."

Meanwhile, OSSTF's Toronto local put out an ultimatum of its own. President Doug Joliffe said teachers would withdraw some services on Nov. 4 if they have not reached a deal with the school board by then. Mr. Joliffe said teachers will stop performing administrative duties and will not fill in for absent colleagues, but will continue to perform extra-curriculars.

"We're trying to put as little pressure on the students as possible," he said. "The idea of this is to put all the pressure on the principals who, we hope, will then put pressure on their superiors."

Mr. Joliffe said the main issue is health and safety, including such problems as principals and vice-principals not being available to resolve discipline problems because they are too frequently pulled out of their schools to attend meetings, and science labs in schools not receiving proper safety inspections.

Toronto District School Board spokesman Ryan Bird wrote in an email: "It's our hope that an agreement can be reached in the very near future so that there is no impact to our students and schools."

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