By Sue Tiffin
Elementary school teachers in Haliburton County and across the province will be in legal strike position at the end of the month though Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario president Sam Hammond said the union is continuing to focus on contract talks.
“ETFO is fighting for investment not cuts in education but Doug Ford’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce isn’t listening” Hammond said in a Nov.8 press release. “While ETFO is now in a legal position to take strike action in 17 days we will continue to focus on contract talks in an attempt to arrive at a deal that improves student learning conditions and educator working conditions.”
ETFO members voted 98 per cent in favour of central strike action Hammond said in an announcement made Nov 1.
“Talks have stalled at ETFO’s central bargaining tables” he said. “This is a wakeup call from our members to this government to get serious about key issues affecting educators and students including more supports for special education class size and class structure fair and transparent hiring practices and preservation of the current kindergarten program.”
Hammond said then it was an “overwhelming mandate” from ETFO members and that a conciliator would meet with the ETFO and other parties at the central bargaining tables on Nov. 4. After that meeting a “no board” report – a report filed if the process of conciliation fails – was requested from the Ministry of Labour putting ETFO in a legal position to take job action in 17 days at the end of November. No job action has been announced yet.
Karen Bratina ETFO representative for Trillium Lakelands District School Board said she didn’t have a local breakdown of the vote but said it was likely a similar percentage to the provincial vote.
“Just the feel of the room and the willingness of so many of our members to attend a meeting in Lindsay after work demonstrates the solidarity in this movement” she said. Approximately 650 of just over 1000 ETFO members within the TLDSB attended the strike vote meeting Oct. 16. Almost 100 elementary school teachers work in Haliburton County.
“We continue to be faced with violence in the classrooms and the schools that is significant and it’s definitely happening in Haliburton [County]” said Bratina. “The last thing we need are cuts in education.”
Bratina said one of the key requests from teachers is proper support for students demonstrating violent and aggressive behaviours and proper assessment so they can be better supported. She said some teachers are seeking medical care due to violent incidents in the classroom and some are requiring protective gear.
“It’s a real problem and this province instead of wanting to invest money into the education system they’re basically asking ETFO to provide $150 million in cuts” said Bratina.
In response to the ETFO strike vote announcement on Nov. 1 Lecce said in a statement “While our government has been a reasonable and constructive force at the bargaining table – focused on keeping kids in class – today ETFO has taken another escalating step towards a strike which will disproportionately hurt our kids.”
Lecce said “strike action caused by unions could mean school closures disruption and uncertainty for students and parents.”
“I support a deal not a strike” he said. “Our team remains unequivocal in our determination to land deals with our labour partners as soon as possible to keep our kids in the classroom.”
ETFO represents 83000 elementary public school teachers occasional teachers and education professionals across the province.
Last month a last-minute deal was reached between the province and the Canadian Union of Public Employees which represents about 55000 education workers in the province averting a full strike poised to proceed on Oct. 7. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation representing 60000 members is holding strike votes from Oct. 22 to Nov. 15. The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association representing 45000 teachers is also holding strike votes this month.