Public school strike action escalating
Update: OSSTF now says it will go on a one-day strike Wednesday if no contract is settled.
Unions representing elementary and secondary public school teachers say escalating job action is intended to put pressure on the provincial government to settle contract negotiations, without impacting students.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) began the first phase of a work-to-rule strike action on Nov. 26 with the goal of putting the “government’s feet to the fire.”
ETFO members are not participating in Ministry of Education and school board activities but are continuing with regular student instruction.
“ETFO wants the Ford government to work with us on important issues but, so far, it has not shown much interest in doing that. Our members are getting impatient, and they are taking strike action because it seems to be the only way to get this government’s attention,” said ETFO president Sam Hammond.
“Education Minister Stephen Lecce claims only a few bargaining issues are outstanding. That is not the case. We are very far apart on many substantive items that affect both ETFO members and student learning environments.”
They are fighting up to $150 million in cuts to elementary education.
“That’s unacceptable. No one wants cuts except this government, which has to find a way to pay for the mistakes caused by its irresponsible and short-sighted decisions,” said Hammond.
“ETFO has raised issues that are being ignored, like rising school-based violence and reasonable class sizes for our youngest learners. A regulation in place since 2012 around teacher hiring is in jeopardy. Without it, school boards will revert to cronyism and favouritism rather than hiring teachers based on their qualifications and experience,” added Hammond.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) began its first province-wide job action in more than 20 years on Nov. 26, as contract negotiations enter their eighth month.
Members are participating in information pickets before and after school, and at lunch with the goal of educating the public about the Ford government’s “destructive plans for Ontario’s publicly-funded education system, and the negative effect those plans will have on the learning environment for students all across the province.” Educators will be distributing information to parents and to the general public.
OSSTF says the action will not disrupt the regular school day and will have no effect on students in the classroom.
Members also began a limited withdrawal of services that will affect government or school board initiatives only and include EQAO preparation or testing, data reports, participation in unpaid staff meetings outside of school hours, or provide report card comments.
“Doug Ford’s Minister of Education would have Ontarians believe that he’s eager to get to a deal,” said OSSTF president Harvey Bischof. “But the bargaining process has been underway for months now, and through that entire time the government side of the table has willfully avoided any meaningful discussion of issues that are crucial to the quality of education in Ontario. They have simply refused to acknowledge the devastating effect that increased class sizes, mandatory e-learning, and the loss of thousands of teacher and support staff positions will have on the province’s students.”
“Surely the Minister should know by now that any discussion that excludes those critical issues is not going to lead to a deal,” said Bischof. “By refusing to address those serious concerns, the Ford government is telling our members that it simply doesn’t care about the quality of education in Ontario, and it doesn’t care about the front-line workers who deliver that education. That’s why our members, frustrated by the abject lack of progress at the bargaining table, have delivered an overwhelming strike mandate.”
“The commencement of these job actions does not preclude the achievement of a negotiated agreement. OSSTF remains committed to negotiating solutions that focus on quality learning environments, student success, and the continued viability of publicly-funded education in Ontario.”
In response to the work-to-rule action, education minister Lecce said in a statement, “I’ve been clear – I want to get deals that keep the children of this province in school. It is regrettable [that] ETFO and OSSTF have chosen to escalate to work-to-rule action, only hurting our children. This escalation to a partial withdrawal of services, including targeting math supports and report cards, hurts our children the most.
The government has remained a consistent and reasonable force at the negotiating table, trying to reach a deal that provides certainty and predictability to parents, students, and educators. As evidenced by the voluntarily negotiated agreement with CUPE, I know we can get there through working together in good faith, so that students remain in class.”
“My negotiating team stands ready for meaningful, good-faith bargaining 24/7, to reach the deals Ontario students and families deserve. There is a path to a deal, and it requires all parties to be reasonable and fair and put the needs of our children first,” he continued.
ETFO represents 83,000 elementary public school teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals across the province.
OSSTF has 60,000 members across Ontario including public high school teachers, occasional teachers, educational assistants, continuing education teachers and instructors, early childhood educators, psychologists, secretaries, speech-language pathologists, social workers, plant support personnel, university support staff, and many others in education.
The Ontario Catholic Teachers Association has taken a step toward job action, voting 97 per cent in favour of a strike, as negotiations continue and they get closer to a legal strike position.
(photo: A teacher demonstration at Queen’s Park, summer 2019)