Hundreds of public elementary school teachers have descended on Toronto for their annual meeting against the backdrop of a possible work stoppage this fall.
Around 800 members of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) are gathering at a downtown hotel this week to debate and vote on policies and directions for the upcoming school year. They are also likely to get an update on contract talks with the province.
Union officials have already stated they are going after larger raises in order to keep up with the rising cost of inflation.
Premier Doug Ford has said teachers can expect to get raises above the one per cent cap his government imposed when he first came into power, however, that came with a caveat.
“Their increase is going to be more than one per cent, it’s not going to be through the roof but it’s going to be very fair to everyone,” said Ford. “We fully understand inflation, we fully understand the cost of living is going up but my message to the teacher’s union is one thing – those kids have to be back in school in September and they have to be back in school with extracurricular activities.”
Teachers’ unions have noted, in response, that extracurriculars are voluntary for teachers to offer.
ETFO president Karen Brown has said that any interruptions would likely come much later in the school year.
“It’s a lengthy process. Talks don’t break down, and then we’re going on the picket lines,” Brown tells CityNews. “Our members want – parents want, students want – stability in the system. So, that means really working at the table to get the best deal for our members.”
ETFO represents approximately 83,000 members, including public elementary teachers, occasional teachers, designated early childhood educators, education support personnel and professional support personnel.
OSBCU calls for strike votes
Earlier this month CUPE-Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU), which represents school board office employees, education assistants, library workers, custodians, ECE workers and other support staff, asked its members to hold a strike vote no later than August 22. That means a possible labour disruption as early as the second week of school at most school boards.
In its proposal submitted to provincial negotiators, the OSBCU is asking for significant pay raises of at least $3.25 per hour for each year of the new contract as well as minimum staffing requirements, a designated Early Childhood Educator for every kindergarten class, and $100 million to create between 1,500 and 1,700 new jobs.
Lecce has called on CUPE to hold off on any strike vote, noting that talks between the two sides have been “productive.”
“Let’s be clear on the collective bargaining process. If a union takes a strike vote, it doesn’t mean there’s a strike. In fact, negotiations still continue,” read a tweet sent by the ETFO on Friday while calling on Lecce to “stop fear-mongering and attacking [education] unions.”
Files from the Canadian Press and Shauna Hunt were used in this report.