Island school teachers in legal strike position later this month


MANITOULIN – The heat is turning up on labour negotiations between the province and its two largest teachers’ unions as both the 83,000-member Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the 55,000-member Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) will be in a legal strike position later this month. Both unions represent the teachers on Manitoulin and both union contracts expired on August 31.

Members of the ETFO, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association and the OSSTF have all overwhelmingly voted to give their unions strike mandates with votes in favour stretching well into the 90 percentiles.

Both the unions representing Island teachers say the province has failed to address key issues during contract negotiations. The ETFO’s application for a no-board report, essentially an agreement the two sides are too far apart to make a settlement likely, was granted on November 8, starting the 17-day countdown to being in a legal strike position on November 25. The ETFO received an overwhelming 98 percent strike mandate from its membership at the beginning of November. The OSSTF voted 92 percent in favour of a strike mandate. This places three of the four largest teachers’ unions on the brink of job action as Catholic board teachers voted 97 percent in favour of a strike mandate as well.

Following the ETFO vote, union president Sam Hammond said his members’ concerns are about class size, class structure, violence in classrooms and the preservation of the current full-day Kindergarten model. When it comes to salary expectations, Bill 124, a piece of provincial legislation that limits public sector wage increases is casting a dark shadow across the table. The bill would cap wage increases to an average of one percent a year for three years across the public sector.

According to the ETFO president, the province is seeking a $150 million reduction in the union’s collective contract. “This government wants to save money at the expense of our youngest children,” said Mr. Hammond.

As yet the union has not indicated what, if any, job action is currently being contemplated. Going by past experience, the most likely scenario would begin with a work-to-rule campaign.

The OSSTF had already received an earlier no-board report and was in a legal strike position on Monday, November 18. 

Meanwhile, OSSTF president Harvey Bischof said there has been no progress in discussions with the government, but the union did have bargaining dates booked for this week.

“The government has failed to respond to most of our substantive proposals,” said Mr. Bischof. Those proposals include possible resolutions to online learning courses and staffing issues.

For its part, the province said the decision to request no-board reports was regrettable. “I want to make sure the parties know that in good faith I want to continue to work with them, my negotiators with theirs, so that we can keep kids in class,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce told reporters during a recent event in Vaughan.

ETFO teachers are initiating a work-to-rule campaign on November 26. According to the union the campaign will be targeted at ministry and school board administrative tasks, but will spare any impact on student learning.

On Monday, Mr. Lecce called on the province’s major teachers’ unions to enter into mediation.