Teachers strikes to move forward as talks break down with province

The Greater Essex Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) held a forum Friday evening to protest provincial education cuts, privatizing health care, attacking injured workers and much more. June 7, 2019. (Photo by Paul Pedro)

After only three days, contract talks have broken down between the union representing Ontario’s public elementary school teachers and the province.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) announced Friday evening that planned rotating strikes will begin next week as intended after the mediated negotiations with the province came to a halt.  Talks had resumed on Wednesday after a mediator asked both sides to return to the bargaining table.

“ETFO made every effort over the past three days to move negotiations forward but it became increasingly clear that the Ford government was not willing to address key issues in any meaningful way,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond, in a statement. “For example, the government wants to reduce funding to support the learning needs of special education students, and it wants ETFO to agree to those cuts at the bargaining table. We can’t do that.

“The government is unwilling to make any significant efforts to address the problem of classroom violence, or to support the integration of students with diverse learning needs.”

The teachers union, which represents 83,000 elementary public school teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals across the province, has also accused the province of trying to gut a long-standing fair, transparent and equitable teacher hiring process.

“ETFO is concerned this move, which is an attempt to reintroduce teacher hiring based on nepotism and favouritism, will destroy the principles of diversity and equity in hiring,” Hammond said.

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce also issued a statement on Friday after talks broke down, rebuffing the union’s statements.

“I have long said that compensation, pay, and benefits, remain a top priority for teachers’ union leaders, and that remains true today,” Lecce said. “The government has continued to signal reasonableness on issues from special education supports to efforts to counter violence in schools.

“Even following our formal commitment to one of their publicly-stated priorities [to keep the full-day kindergarten program], ETFO leadership continues to advance compensation for their members over the protection of the education system for our youngest learners.”

Lecce added that the government is ready to meet at any time, to reach a deal that keeps students in class.

“The minister claims that he is there for students,” Hammond said. “If that’s the case, then he should have no issue instructing his bargaining team to make investments in the priority funding and special education funding currently on the table.”

Public elementary teachers in southwestern Ontario are scheduled to be on picket lines twice next week. A province-wide one-day strike will be held Thursday, February 6. Elementary teachers with the Thames Valley, Avon-Maitland, and Lambton-Kent school boards will also hold a one-day strike on Tuesday, February 4. Elementary teachers with the Greater Essex County Public School Board will hold a one-day strike Wednesday, January 29 and next Friday.

“Our members have made it very clear that they are committed to protecting public education, and they expect to see a bargaining outcome at the central table that supports the learning needs of their students,” Hammond said. “Agreeing to accept cuts to the funding that elementary students have had in previous years, and that they desperately need now, is not something that ETFO will consider.”