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Talks between the elementary teachers’ union, government and Ontario school boards have broken off with no new bargaining dates scheduled, Education Minister Liz Sandals said in a statement late Friday afternoon.
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, told the Star it was the government and Ontario Public School Boards’ Association that have refused to schedule any more talks.
“After seven marathon days of bargaining, with progress throughout that seven-day period up until (Thursday), at 4:20 p.m. (Friday) we were absolutely shocked when the mediator came and told us the government and (school boards) are done bargaining, that they are walking away from the table,” he said in a telephone interview.
Sandals said the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association “and the Crown have tabled a comprehensive proposal … that is in line with the tentative agreements reached with the other teacher federations” which provides one additional day of professional development, a small salary increase and protects current class sizes and prep time provisions.
“In particular, the offer presented mirrors the tentative agreement with OSSTF, the union representing the English public secondary school teachers, with whom OPSBA also has a bargaining relationship,” she added.
“No additional bargaining dates have been set.”
Sandals went on to say that the executive of the elementary teachers’ union meets Monday “and we are hopeful that they will consider this settlement offer seriously. OPSBA and the Crown remain hopeful that a settlement can be reached.”
A source familiar with the talks said the deal from the government removed all of the “strips” to the contract that were previously proposed, but the elementary teachers’ union said it could not recommend that to members and asked for more dates to hammer out changes, which the government refused.
The government is looking for status quo on class size and parental/maternity leave benefits, while ETFO is seeking improvement in both those areas. The source also said the ETFO was seeking a small pay increase above and beyond the one giving to the other unions in their tentative deals.
It is unclear what has led to the impasse with the elementary teachers. Hammond had said the government and school boards’ association would be in “for the fight of their lives” if they didn’t drop the contentious proposals. However, the government and school boards have dropped controversial items — changes to class size and prep time — in the two tentative deals.
ETFO is the country’s largest teacher union, and its teachers are in the midst of a largely administrative work-to-rule campaign, which also bans teacher participation in field trips as well as meet-the-teacher nights.
The government has said all deals with teacher unions must be “net zero” — meaning any extra costs have to be offset by savings elsewhere. No details have been provided about where the savings are coming from.
Once the high school teachers’ union reached their tentative deal Aug. 20, many in the education sector believed it would pave the way for other deals.
The province’s French teachers continue to bargain, but are also beginning a work-to-rule this month since no deal has been reached.
The tentative deals reached are all at the provincial bargaining tables, where costly items like salary and class size are dealt with. Union locals still need to hammer out deals with their local school boards on mostly administrative issues, such as performance appraisals or personnel files, and strikes at that level are still possible.
However, the situation has calmed somewhat in Peel and Durham public high schools, which were hit by local strikes last spring. The Peel board has a local deal in place, though one item has been sent to arbitration. The Durham board has a partial deal, with several items still to be determined.