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ONTARIO: Elementary teachers plan new strikes in two weeks if no deal is reached

ETFO president says "everything is on the table"
20200206 Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario ETFO north bay 2 turl
Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario members picket Siver Birches school on Marshall Ave. Jeff Turl/BayToday.

TORONTO — Ontario's public elementary teachers are threatening more job action in two weeks — and they aren't ruling out a full strike.

The president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario said Monday that if contract deals aren't reached by March 6, they will begin a new phase of strikes effective Monday, March 9.

"Minister, you have two weeks," Sam Hammond said. "The ball is now in your court."

Hammond did not specify what the next phase of strike action will look like, but when asked if that meant a full strike, he said everything is on the table.

The elementary teachers and education workers have been engaging in rotating strikes, but Hammond said over the next two weeks his members will be focusing on political pressure and mobilizing support from the public.

Starting Wednesday, ETFO teachers will picket outside their schools for at least 20 minutes a day once a week, send letters to their provincial representatives and the minister of education, and encourage people they know who aren't teachers to do the same.

The teachers are also ramping up their work-to-rule campaign on Wednesday by not covering a class for an absent colleague if a supply teacher cannot be found, and not spending their own money to buy classroom supplies.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said he hopes ETFO works with school boards to ensure their new work-to-rule measures don't risk student safety.

"That is why our government is squarely focused on getting a deal that ends the continuous escalation by teachers' union leaders, so our kids remain in class," he said in a statement.

Hammond has said that ETFO and the government were close to agreements on key issues in late January, but the government negotiators changed positions at the last minute. They have had no talks since.

"It's so very disturbing to see that after weeks of strike action, a provincewide strike by 200,000 educators and as the massive support from parents and voters continues to grow, the Ford government is still not prepared to properly, in a meaningful way, address the concerns ETFO has raised at the bargaining table," Hammond said.

Elementary teachers say their key issues include guaranteeing the future of full-day kindergarten, securing more funding to hire special education teachers, and maintaining seniority hiring rules. All of the teachers' unions are also asking for around two per cent in annual salary increases, while the government won't budge beyond offering a one per cent raise.

The four groups have been staging strikes, including a joint walk-out last week, as contract talks with the government appear to have made little progress. However, Catholic teachers were back at the bargaining table Monday and because of the renewed talks they have suspended rotating strikes they had planned for this week.

Teachers in the French system are scheduled to bargain with the government Friday, but are also planning a one-day strike on Thursday.

High school teachers are set to resume their weekly, rotating strikes on Friday by walking out at several boards.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2020.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press