More strike days as ETFO protests continue
By Chad Ingram
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario plans to continue its job action this week that will see ETFO members in Haliburton County on picket lines on Tuesday, Feb. 11 and Thursday Feb. 13, as the teachers’ union and Ford government continue to be unable to settle a contract.
On Feb. 11, all 83,000 ETFO members throughout the province were set to strike and on Feb. 13, ETFO members within the Trillium Lakelands District School Board were scheduled to partake in a one-day strike. Rotating one-day strikes, with different school boards involved throughout the province each day of the week, have been ongoing since Jan. 22. For the past couple of weeks, another day of the week has been dedicated to a full, province-wide strike by ETFO members. Elementary students in the county missed two days of school last week, as they were scheduled to this week as well.
The tone between the union and the government is becoming increasingly heated, and ETFO president Sam Hammond said in a release last week that the union and the province had been close to reaching a deal on Friday, Jan. 31.
“ETFO, school board associations and the government were close to an agreement on Friday that would have been good for students, educators and public education. It would have ensured stability in public elementary schools this week,” Hammond said in the release. “Then, late that day, the government’s negotiators changed course and tabled impossible options they knew ETFO could not accept.”
“I want to set the record straight,” continued Hammond. “Unlike the Minister of Education, I was at the bargaining table last week so I know what was discussed. Despite what Minister [Stephen] Lecce is claiming, salary was not addressed during those negotiations, and government negotiators did not sign a letter of commitment to maintain the kindergarten model.”
Priorities for ETFO include maintaining the current kindergarten program, smaller class sizes, resources for students with special needs, as well as teacher compensation.
“We have to question what the government’s motivation was when it abruptly changed its tactics at the last minute. Rather than ‘keep kids in the classroom,’ which Education Minister Stephen Lecce says is his goal, this government is deliberately creating chaos in our education system,” Hammond said.
Last week, Lecce fired back, telling the media that ETFO is adding “new items to their priority list,” including that the hiring of teachers continues to be based on seniority ranking within the union.
With regard to the hiring process, Hammond said in the release: “An agreement was also within reach on maintaining a long-standing regulation that ensures fair and transparent hiring processes for teachers. Government negotiators then introduced demands for major concessions around fair hiring.”
Along with continuing strike action, elementary school students are not receiving report cards, and field trips and extracurricular activities have been cancelled.
Daycares, after-school programs and any community activities occurring at elementary schools are not affected by the strike, but all bus transportation for elementary school students on Feb. 11 and Feb. 13 was to be cancelled if schools were not open to students due to striking.
At the secondary level, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation was planning to continue its job action with a one-day strike on Thursday, Feb. 13 in certain school boards throughout the province, which doesn’t appear to affect TLDSB. Secondary students are receiving report cards, but without comments, as the OSSTF also seeks to ratify a new agreement with the province.
Within the Trillium Lakelands District School Board, the board has decided to cancel all extracurricular activities at secondary schools that take place within school hours, in response to OSSTF job action that does not allow teachers to cover for absent teachers.
That decision has also put athletics at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School in jeopardy for the remainder of the school year, since the Kawartha District Athletic Association has requested that member schools agree to and finalize season and playoff schedules. The KDAA has initially set a deadline of Jan. 31 for responses, but has agreed to extend it.