With elementary teachers set to join their high school colleagues in strike action Monday, union leaders and the provincial government are bickering over whether or not they returned to the bargaining table over the weekend, dashing hopes for a last-minute deal.
The president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), Sam Hammond, said his union sat down with the government Sunday afternoon and made hopeful progress over the course of three hours that was dashed when the province suddenly called the negotiations off.
"It's a real tragedy," he said. "Everyone in the room was intent on finding solutions."
Education Minister Laurel Broten wrote in a statement that ministry officials were just updating ETFO leadership on how negotiations were progressing with the high school teachers' union, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF).
"While the government did meet with ETFO, and answered their questions, ETFO did not engage in any discussions with local boards which the government could facilitate," she said.
York region's elementary teachers will be the first to join high school teachers in strike action. Like the secondary school counterparts, elementary teachers will be cutting back on administrative duties, but Mr. Hammond said that will not include supervisory duties outside the classroom.
"My members are frustrated, outraged, they continue to feel betrayed, and they are prepared to do what is necessary to get this situation resolved," he said.
Leaders of both unions have vowed to ramp up job action as the dispute drags on. They have until Dec. 31st to reach a deal with their local school boards, which according to legislation enacted in September, must be substantially similar to a deal reached between the Ontario government and the English Catholic teachers' union.
That same legislation imposes cuts to teachers' sick days, freezes their pay and restricts their ability to go on strike. The government, however, has expressed reluctance to block a strike before the end of the calendar year lest it impede local bargaining and bolster the union's court case against the legislation.
Teachers have been so outraged at having the terms of their contracts imposed that they have been withdrawing voluntary services, things like leading clubs and coaching sports teams, since the second week of school. High school teachers at nearly 20 school boards began strike action this week, stopping administrative and supervisory duties and raising concerns about school safety.