Ontario has challenged its elementary-school teachers by laying down a contract offer similar to what two other teachers' unions have tentatively accepted and then making that fact public.
The response by public-school teachers was heated, as their union president lashed out at the management bargaining team for breaking a media blackout and accused it of walking away from talks in an underhanded way.
"They went to the media, quite frankly, so they could try to get out in front of this, point the finger at us, and now … misrepresent the facts and the discussions that happened," said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario.
The union's leadership has scheduled an emergency meeting for Monday to discuss the offer and any other plans. Its teachers have been engaged in a work-to-rule since school began, and it has previously threatened to ramp up that action if no agreement is reached soon.
It's unclear whether talks can continue next week, with Mr. Hammond saying the union's two bargaining partners, the province and Ontario Public School Boards Association, have refused to set further dates.
Two other Ontario teachers' unions reached tentative deals in the last month, and the province made elementary-school teachers a very similar offer to those, according to a statement from the Ministry of Education at 5 p.m. Friday.
Public high-school teachers and all Catholic-school teachers would all get a 1.5-per-cent raise and a 1-per-cent lump-sum payment during the next three years under the tentative deals. Both unions have yet to ratify them.
Management bargaining teams "tabled a comprehensive proposal to the ETFO … that is in line with the tentative agreements reached with the other teacher federations," said the statement. "We are hopeful that they will consider this settlement offer seriously."
Both sides in the ETFO talks said they have been productive this week. The union returned to the table on Sept. 1 for the first time since May and the two side have met every day this week, with offers evolving until Thursday, said Mr. Hammond.
Accounts differed of what happened on Friday.
According to Mr. Hammond, the union asked through a mediator on Friday morning for more bargaining dates.
"We were informed at 4:20 … this afternoon that OPSBA and the government were not prepared to provide us with further dates for bargaining, that they were done bargaining any substantive issues on the table, and that they were leaving the table," he said.
"I'm also shocked that within 15 minutes of informing us, they were out in the media."
Michael Barrett, the president of OPSBA, said the management bargaining teams haven't left the table, and if the union rejects the offer they can set up more bargaining dates while going back under a media blackout.
"If they want to come back to the table with more dates, that won't be an issue," he said. "Everybody knew there weren't any more dates set up after today."
Mr. Hammond said that account was an "outright mistruth" and that the other side had clearly said "they were done."
He said the province's special framing and publicizing of its offer was "nonsense." ETFO representatives asked on Friday whether the government's most recent proposal was its official final one, which carries legal ramifications, and they were told it wasn't, said Mr. Hammond.
"There are [proposals] on the table from both sides that we were fully prepared to continue negotiating around," he said.
Neither Mr. Hammond nor Mr. Barrett would say whether ETFO's salary demands had been significantly different from the other unions,' or whether any non-monetary issues have been resolved. The union had balked earlier at a proposal to direct teachers' preparation time.
This year, for the first time, all of Ontario's teachers' unions are bargaining simultaneously under new legislation that is meant to streamline the process.
But ETFO, the biggest teachers' union in the province, is bargaining according to its own needs and its bargaining partners "are very much aware of that," said Mr. Hammond.