Elementary teachers set to go on rotating strikes if a new contract is not reached

Strike Update photo by Warren Schlote

RAINBOW DISTRICT – While classes in the Rainbow District School Board for students in Grades 9-12 were cancelled this past Wednesday (and in various areas in the province) due to a one-day strike undertaken by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is planning rotating strikes if a new contract agreement can not be reached with the province in the next few days. 

“We are looking at rotating strikes, if by January 20 there is no new contract agreement with the province,” stated Barb Blasutti, president of the ETFO Rainbow Local on Friday of last week. “The phase three and work to rule deals with extracurricular activities and teachers will not be participating in outside activities outside of the regular school day if a contract can not be reached. All extracurricular activities will have to take place during the day; so there will still be some extracurriculars and field trips—the students and our teachers love participating in these.”

“We’ve reached the point in bargaining that we have no more options,” said Ms. Blasutti. “There has been very, very little progress made. The ETFO was told before Christmas by the government representatives that they can’t bargain on anything except strips and cuts; that they wouldn’t talk us about maintaining full-day Kindergarten, additional funding to address violence at schools, funding for special needs, reasonable class sizes that would provide more one on one teaching, staffing and funding for the most vulnerable students in the system or many other issues that need to be looked at.” 

“We honestly don’t have any more options to bring forward or look at,” said Ms. Blasutti. She pointed out $150 million in cuts has been or in the process of being put in place by the province.
ETFO union president Sam Hammond said in six months of contract talks, government negotiators have only discussed cuts to education and says if the government refuses to address critical issues by January 17, the union will start a full withdrawal of services on a rotating basis. 

Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education issued a statement in response to heightened continued ETFO escalation. “Families face union escalation far too often. It’s time for union leaders to end the game and cyclical experience of escalation that hurts Ontario students. Union leaders promised that their escalation would not impact students and their learning. Regrettably, they have again broken that promise, however, we will uphold our commitment to parents, to stay at the bargaining table and work as hard as it takes to reach a deal, that keeps students in class.”

“We have delivered a ratified deal, and most recently a tentative deal, with education unions to date, and we are working to deliver further agreements that achieve our priority of keeping students in class,” said Mr. Lecce.

The OSSTF announced last week that within several school boards, teachers would be holding another one-day strike, which took place this past Wednesday and included the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB). A limited withdrawal of services, which began on November 26, 2019, will continue province-wide.

“The Minister of Education continues to peddle the false narrative that this dispute is about compensation,” said OSSTF/FEESO President Harvey Bischof. “And yet, when we offered to call off our most recent job action in exchange for class size and staffing guarantees—issues entirely unrelated to compensation—the Ford government chose to reject that offer rather than keep students in classrooms.”

“It’s time for the Ford government to come to the table with meaningful responses to our proposals so that we can work toward a deal that protects the quality of education in Ontario,” concluded Mr. Bischof.

Mr. Lecce said, “for the fifth time, OSSTF union leaders have directed their members to not show up to class. These union leaders will forcefully advocate for the interests of their members-from higher wages to enhanced entitlements-however, they ought not oppose the academic aspirations of our students.”

“Students should be in class,” said Mr. Lecce. “It is most concerning that teacher unions leaders disagree and continue to impede learning for the next generation. Our government is focused on landing deals that keep students in class so that we end the frustrating experience families face due to predictable union escalation. This continued strike action is unfair to students and their families.”

The RDSB announced last Friday, “Rainbow District School Board’s secondary teachers and support staff represented by the OSSTF will engage in a full withdrawal of services on Wednesday, January 15 in response to negotiations at the provincial level. All classes for Grades 9 to 12 will be cancelled for the day in Sudbury, Espanola and Manitoulin Island. This includes Barrydowne College, the N’Swakamok Native Alternative School, the Attendance Centre and the Adult Day School.”