Elementary teachers reach 11th hour pact, end job action

TORONTO— The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario ( ETFO ) is advising its members to suspend strike action in light of a tentative agreement that has been reached with the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) and the provincial government.

“If you saw my face today there was certainly a smile on it,” said Charles C. McLean teacher and ETFO steward Heather Jefkins, who was joined in a rainy day rally by dozens of teachers held on the Highway 6 sidewalk outside the Little Current recreation centre late last week.

ETFO members have been without a contract over 14 months, the last contract expired on August 31, 2014.

“This round of bargaining has been exceptionally lengthy and difficult but in the end we achieved a tentative agreement that ETFO believes is fair and meets the needs of our members,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond in a media release shortly after the agreement had been reached.

“Our collective bargaining team worked really, really hard,” agreed Ms. Jefkins. “I believe them when they tell me that it will be good for teachers and good for students.”

The final word will still be up to the teachers themselves, she stressed. “We are a democratic organization and we will all get a chance to vote on the deal.”

An ETFO all-member vote among teachers and occasional teachers will be conducted regarding the tentative agreement, with the results of that vote expected in mid-November. “We haven’t been given an exact date yet,” noted Ms. Jefkins.

Elementary school teachers from across Manitoulin braved the wind and rain last Wednesday afternoon to demonstrate along Highway 6 following the premier’s November 1 ultimatum.
Elementary school teachers from across Manitoulin braved the wind and rain last Wednesday afternoon to demonstrate along Highway 6 following the premier’s November 1 ultimatum.

“ETFO is a democratic organization and ultimately it is the membership that will determine whether this tentative agreement is acceptable,” Mr. Hammond said in the release, noting that “local leaders will now focus their efforts on reaching agreements in their respective school boards.”

“The local bargaining with the RDSB is still to be settled,” agreed Ms. Jefkins, “but this is a great start. We waited a long time for this.”

ETFO will review the tentative agreement with its local leaders and members before making further comments to the media noted the union release. ETFO’s bargaining team will continue central table negotiations on behalf of its designated early childhood educators, education support personnel and professional support personnel.

Public elementary teachers and school staff had been given until November 1 by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who intervened a week-and-a-half ago to bring the school boards back to the table, to reach tentative agreements or possibly face a reduction in their pay, given their ongoing job action that had seen teachers refusing to submit report card comments or attend meetings, custodians not cleaning hallways and school secretaries in some boards, including the RDSB, not monitoring front-door security systems.

Talks took place all last week and throughout this past weekend, and it was unclear what, if any, action Premier Wynne would take were the talks to break down again. Public school boards have to ask for permission to reduce pay packets and must give affected employees five days’ notice before proceeding.

On Monday, Education Minister Liz Sandals announced that the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents 55,000 school support staff, had reached a deal and that the union was calling an end to its province-wide work-to-rule job action, which had seen caretakers refuse to clean hallways and some secretaries refusing to buzz in visitors at the front door in a timely fashion.

“I am pleased to announce that a tentative agreement has been successfully reached between CUPE, the trustee associations representing all four publicly funded education systems, and the Government of Ontario,” said a statement released by Education Minister Liz Sandals. “The agreement recognizes the important work that education support workers do every day in our schools. They play an integral role in ensuring our schools provide welcoming, safe and clean environments that support student success.”

“Education workers deeply influence a positive and productive learning environment for students and are supported in this role through the peace and stability that comes from successfully negotiated collective agreements,” said OPSBA president Michael Barrett in a release. “We look forward to ratification so we can move forward in the best interests of our students.”

The details of the agreement remain confidential until ratified by all parties, notes the same release. CUPE has agreed to stop all job action while awaiting ratification of the deal. If ratified, the agreement will be valid until August 31, 2017. Negotiations continue with other unions representing various education workers employed in OPSBA member board schools and board offices.

In a statement released Monday, CUPE stated it would halt its job action.