The head of the powerful Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said Monday the last thing his union wants is a repeat of the labour turmoil of two years ago.
Sam Hammond steered clear of fighting words against the Liberals after a speech in which he cheered his union’s work to help defeat Tim Hudak’s Conservatives, whose policies he said threatened teachers’ wages and unions in general.
Although Hammond did warn the 800 delegates to the annual meeting in Toronto that “it will be a challenging year,” bargaining “with a government intent on holding the line on public sector wages, and we are ready,” he used conciliatory tones with reporters afterwards and praised the Liberals for their investments in education.
“The last thing I want, the last thing my members want, and I know the last thing the government or OPSBA (Ontario Public School Boards’ Association) want is to go through what we went through the last time.
“And I’m going to try to avoid that at all costs and find solutions to problems.”
The contracts for all teacher unions expire Aug. 31 and they will negotiate big-ticket money matters with Queen’s Park under a new, more formal system hammered out recently with the Ministry of Education and the school boards and passed into law through Bill 122. It sets what Hammond calls “clearer guidelines” for contract talks than the more ad hoc approach that had evolved informally in recent years.
Hammond blamed the labour unrest two years ago on a lack of fair and balanced system for talks, after the province imposed a wage freeze and limited teachers’ bargaining rights, leading outraged public school teachers to boycott after-school programs for much of the school year.
But he said that system has been scrapped.
This round of negotiations, “with Bill 122 and the work that we did to amend it, it is 1,000 times ahead of what we went through,” said Hammond.
Hammond said he does wish Premier Kathleen Wynne would stop stating publicly that she intends to hold the line on public-sector wages, which he considers a move toward bargaining through the media.
However, he stressed that Wynne owes the labour movement nothing in exchange for its support for the Liberals against the Conservatives in the recent election.
“The premier doesn’t owe me anything and we need to continue to build a relationship with this government going forward. Personally, as president, I’ve had a very respectful and good relationship with both the premier and the Minister of Education,” he said.
“Listen, except for a couple of years, the Liberal government in their relations with us and what they’ve done for publicly funded education has been very positive. If you look at class size maximums in Grade 1 to 3, the implementation of full-day kindergarten etc., they’ve done some significant positive things for education. And we shall see how this unfolds over their four-year term.”
The union will have its first preliminary meeting Sept. 3 with the ministry and OPSBA to begin to discuss which issues will be on the table.
“I understand parents’ worry, as a parent, but I would say, ‘Let us do what we do under this new process. Let us bargain and negotiate and give us an opportunity to find solutions,’” said Hammond.
ETFO did not invite the Conservatives to speak to its annual meeting because of that party’s anti-labour stance, said party sources, but Premier Kathleen Wynne will speak Wednesday and New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath speaks Tuesday.