The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario is ratcheting up the rhetoric in a war of words that could escalate to strikes next month.
The union says in a statement this morning it will give parents 72 hours notice of strikes planned for December in public elementary schools across the province.
The union blames Education Minister Laurel Broten and the Liberal government’s controversial Bill 115 for the current labour unrest.
“It is unfortunate that we have been placed in the position of having to strike by Education Minister Laurel Broten, but we will provide parents with ample notice to ensure the safety of students,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond.
“By her actions, the minister has let everyone down by stripping teachers and education professionals of their democratic rights and shutting down recent talks at the provincial level.”
The union, which represents 76,000 teachers and other employees in public elementary schools, claims it was invited to talks on Nov. 11 between the union, Ministry of Education officials and a third-party facilitator.
The union says those “productive talks” were “abruptly” shut down by the minister.
“We continue to be ready to resume discussions in an attempt to reach an agreement that meets the needs of all parties,” said Hammond.
“It’s time the minister got serious about reaching deals that respect the rights of our members.”
Public elementary teachers in Niagara are not currently in a legal strike position.
However, ETFO’s provincial leadership has asked teachers to make some professional decisions whether or not to participate in extra-curricular activities taking place outside of the school day, according to the District School Board of Niagara.
Classroom learning has not been affected.
It’s not clear yet how the government will respond to the threat of strikes.
Bill 115: Putting Students First Act gives time for local bargaining to continue until Dec. 31, to allow school boards and local unions to conclude local collective agreements.
It also gives the government the power to force unions to accept agreements and block strike action.
Meanwhile, the situation at public high schools is again up in the air.
Earlier this week, members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation District 22 voted to reject a tentative agreement negotiated between their union and the District School Board of Niagara.
Full results of the vote have not yet been made public.
As a result of the vote, job action by teachers was expected to resume on Wednesday.
In an interview with the Toronto Star. Broten called the results of the vote in Niagara and in York region “disappointing.”
Bill 115 was passed with the help of opposition leader Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives, who stood with the government members despite decrying the legislation as not going far enough.
The legislation has caused a serious rift inside the Liberal party, which seems to be growing now that there’s a seven-way race to replace McGuinty as Liberal leader and premier.
Some Liberals have openly voiced their objections to aspects of the legislation from the beginning.
Niagara Falls MPP Liberal MPP Kim Craitor, a former district labour council president, drew flak from the Tories when he skipped the final vote on Bill 115.
In an interview with Bullet News earlier this year, the independent-minded Craitor acknowledged he skipped the vote because he has concerns about overriding the collective bargaining process and about the impact the freeze could have on lower paid school board employees.
“It’s a challenge for me,” said Craitor. “This idea of imposing (a settlement) does go against what I believe in.”
Former Liberal education minister Gerard Kennedy, who is one of the seven candidates running for the leadership, chatted with local Liberals during a stop in Niagara Falls last week.
Craitor has publicly endorsed Kennedy for leader.
Among the crowd at the event were a number of teachers, who had the opportunity to question Kennedy about his stance on Bill 115.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Kennedy said he wins the leadership contest and becomes the next premier he won’t use the provisions of Bill 115 to force settlements.
“And I would restore collective bargaining rights,” said Kennedy. “Because I believe the best outcome is one that is negotiated.”
Still, said Kennedy, no other party can match the Liberal government’s track record on education during the past nine years.
“No party can match the amount of success the Liberal party has had in delivering for students through good relationships with teachers, through innovative programs, through commitment to funding, sometimes at times of great difficulty,” said Kennedy.
The Liberal leadership vote will take place during the party’s convention in Toronto Jan. 25-27.
There’s speculation teachers’ unions may be trying to hold out in hopes of getting a better deal from the new premier, whoever that may be.