Less than 48 hours before it had warned it might launch rotating strikes, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has agreed to resume talks at the invitation of Education Minister Liz Sandals.
“We learned at 5 p.m. (Tuesday) that Minister Sandals has called upon ETFO to return to the bargaining table. ETFO has been ready to return to the table for two weeks to bargain a fair and reasonable collective agreement specific to ETFO members,” said union president Sam Hammond in a 6 p.m. statement.
“We accept this invitation and look to the minister to confirm where and when negotiations will resume.”
The ministry and the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association have reached out to a mediator to find dates that work for all parties.
However the government’s invitation to ETFO to return to the table came four hours after the union filed a complaint of unfair labour practice against it, over the government’s insistence that elementary teachers agree to the same parameters in their deal as high school teachers have.
“The refusal of the government and (school boards) to engage in bargaining unless ETFO agrees to these preconditions has violated the ‘good faith’ duties” required by Ontario labor law, said the union, which has complained to the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
Sandals had told reporters earlier Tuesday afternoon that “unfortunately what we’re seeing from ETFO, the actual union position seems to be focused on escalating the disruption. I’m very worried that includes the threat of rotating strikes starting in October. It’s 48 hours until October.”
Sandals said the union seemed more focused on further disruption — through work-to-rule action — than negotiating. Talks broke off two weeks ago when the province and school boards’ association tabled an offer to ETFO they say mirrors the deal accepted already by other teachers’ unions, which provides a modest raise and keeps class size and other working conditions roughly the same.
However ETFO has resisted what it called a “cookie cutter” approach to bargaining — noting elementary teachers still lag behind their high school counterparts in a variety of working conditions — and said they would not return until there is “meaningful progress at the bargaining table.”
With both sides insisting they were willing to talk yet neither appearing poised to change its demands, negotiations remained stalled until Tuesday night, when Sandals issued her statement mere hours before ETFO members were to hold a “telephone town hall” across the province.
Said Sandals: “Since bargaining came to an impasse with ETFO, we have reviewed our proposal and the previous positions put forward by ETFO. We believe an agreement can be reached within the parameters of the offer presented to ETFO.
“We know how difficult strikes are for parents and students, and would encourage ETFO to reconsider actions that will disrupt students, teachers and families.”
Sandals noted ETFO has said rotating strikes can be avoided “if meaningful progress is made at the bargaining table. We believe this can be achieved only if all parties are at the table working through difficult issues as we have demonstrated with OSSTF (high school teachers), OECTA (Catholic teachers), and AEFO (French-language teachers).
“We are calling on ETFO to return to the bargaining table.”
Meanwhile, the Toronto District School Board sent a letter home Tuesday explaining the impact of the ETFO work-to-rule, which has cancelled field trips, curriculum nights and, on “Wynne Wednesdays,” all extracurricular activities. The letter also outlines the work-to-rule by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) which represents early childhood educators, secretaries, education assistants and caretakers, among other support workers.
On Tuesday, CUPE members launched a partial withdrawal of services that include not sweeping entrances and hallways, not running school compost programs, not cutting grass or cleaning up leaves unless there is a safety concern and not collecting or accepting money for school-related initiatives and fundraising.
- With files from Rob Ferguson