Public elementary teachers threaten rotating board strikes on one-day basis in October

TORONTO—The impact of the current work-to-rule strike by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario ( ETFO ) reached onto Manitoulin Island earlier this September, when the Central Manitoulin Public School Fall Fair was truncated and modified to accommodate the strike action.

“Our fall fair was much smaller and we made a last minute decision to hold it at our school this year instead of the arena,” said a staff member on background. “That’s because public elementary school teachers across Ontario are taking part in a lawful job action. Teachers have been directed by their provincial union to not plan, organize or participate in any field trips. Under the circumstances, out of respect for our teachers, we modified the format of the fair. We hung students’ art in the gym, had some livestock entries and held our annual fall feast.”

According to a news release from the union, the ETFO escalated its work-to-rule strike action on Monday because the terms offered by the provincial government and the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) in earlier September “are inadequate and ignore elementary school issues.”

“On September 7, after insisting ETFO accept terms designed for secondary teachers, the Liberal government and OPSBA abruptly left the bargaining table,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond in the release. “ETFO has waited more than a week for the government and OPSBA to return to the bargaining table. We have heard nothing from them.”

A notice from the OPSBA noted that “on September 11, OPSBA and the Crown tabled a comprehensive proposal to ETFO teachers. The settlement offer mirrors the deal reached with OSSTF, the union representing English public secondary school teachers, with whom OPSBA also has a bargaining relationship. We are focused on reaching an agreement and hope that ETFO will seriously consider the offer on the table.”

But the union has insisted that the provincial government is attempting to foist a cookie cutter approach to settling labour contracts that is not appropriate to realities in the classroom and the workplace.

“The government is trying to cut corners by offering elementary teachers a deal designed for secondary teachers,” noted Mr. Hammond in the release. “Elementary teachers and students have different needs than secondary teachers and students.”

Mr. Hammond challenged the government’s position on the negotiations. “Despite what the government is implying, it has not offered our members the same conditions as secondary teachers,” he said. “There is a significant disparity in how elementary and secondary schools are funded. That funding gap results in larger class sizes, fewer student supports and poorer working conditions in our elementary schools. The deal the government insists ETFO accept does absolutely nothing to close that gap.”

The release indicated that the ETFO will continue its escalated work-to-rule “until a fair agreement can be reached.” Until such an agreement, teachers will continue to provide instruction and other supports to students, notes the ETFO, but the union has also indicated it will begin rotating one-day strikes in October “if sufficient progress has not occurred at the central bargaining table.”

The union has assured that “parents and the public will be provided with adequate notice should these one-day rotating strikes proceed.”

“If the Liberal government had stayed at the table and not walked away, it’s possible we could have reached a deal by now, and the escalation of ETFO’s work-to-rule could have been avoided,” said Mr. Hammond. “We need to get back to the bargaining table as soon as possible and negotiate a fair deal for elementary teachers and students. That’s the best way of ending the WTR and averting one-day rotating strikes in October.”