By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
The province’s elementary school teachers union is set to take labour action later this month, but officials say it won’t affect students.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has announced its members intend to begin work-to-rule action on Tuesday, Nov. 26.
The union has released a list of more than 20 “administrative” actions that educators will not participate in beginning that day.
These include any EQAO-related activities, professional learning through school boards or the Ministry of Education, school board activities on PA days, or responding to electronic communications from direct supervisors outside of the work day.
Teachers have been instructed not to complete report cards for the first term of this school year. However, teachers will provide a list of marks to school administrators. ETFO has also instructed teachers to meet together at their schools 15 minutes before the day starts.
Union officials have said these strike actions will continue until the dispute with the provincial government has been “satisfactorily resolved” or until the provincial executive calls for further action.
Sam Hammond, president of ETFO, said in a media statement these actions will affect school boards and the ministry, not students.
“We are making this known well in advance to assure parents that this strike action will not affect students, their learning or their safety,” Hammond said. “ETFO members will be withdrawing from ministry and school board administrative activities, which will give them more time to focus on working with students.”
Earlier this month, ETFO announced 98 per cent of its 83,000 members had supported a strike mandate.
Hammond claimed ETFO has been asked to support $150 million in cuts to public education, and the government hasn’t provided any commitment to renewing a $50 million fund for hundreds of special education teachers put in place in 2017.
Other areas of contention for teachers include class sizes, especially in Grades 4 to 8.
ETFO has also called on the government to address violence in Ontario’s classrooms and commit to the all-day kindergarten model.
The ministry is asking teachers to agree to a one per cent pay increase, while the union is seeking two per cent.
However, Hammond has said Minister of Education Stephen Lecce is using salary as way to distract from other issues.
In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, Lecce says it is “disappointing that ETFO has decided to escalate to a partial withdrawal of services, which hurts our kids, despite a limited number of outstanding items at the table.”
I stand with parents who know that labour action by unions hurts our students, and we will work to ensure students remain in the classroom,” Lecce adds. “As I have always said, my negotiating team stands ready for meaningful, good faith bargaining 24/7, to reach the deals Ontario students and families deserve.”
On Monday (Nov. 18), Lecce requested ETFO to agree to mediation with the province.
“Today, I am offering all education sector unions the option to enter into mediation. I believe this is the right step, as mediation involves an independent third party to assist the unions, trustee associations, and the government in reaching settlements,” Lecce said in a statement. “I am asking all our partners to accept this offer so together we can reach deals that keep our kids in class.”
Other labour troubles looming
Two of Ontario’s other three school unions, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) and Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) have both supported strike action if deals cannot be reached with the province.
The OSSTF was in a legal strike position on Monday, Nov. 18.
Negotiations between the government and these two unions continue as well.
Education support workers under the Canadian Union of Public Employees finalized a deal earlier this fall.
The contracts for the ETFO, OSSTF and OECTA all expired on Aug. 31.
Oshawa MPP Jennifer French said Premier Doug Ford and his government “picked a fight” with educators shortly after coming into office.
“The Premier did that a year ago, and seems to be staying the course. [These labour issues] are the result of that plan,” French told The Oshawa Express.
French said it’s “been interesting” to see labour unions and parent groups “connect under the same banner.”
“That banner of actually prioritizing the students. People are recognizing that the teachers and labour groups are saying the same things as parents – that cuts hurt kids,” she notes.
While the province walked back on certain plans, such as changes to funding for autism and class sizes, French says this is a result of push-back from communities.
“I don’t know if it speaks to a willingness to listen, or signals what we’ll see moving forward is the different community groups are going to get louder, stronger, and more unified because they recognize the government has made some changes.”