TORONTO — Ontario's public elementary schools are expected to be closed twice a week starting next week, as teachers announce escalating job action with no signs of movement in contract talks.
The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario said Monday that effective next week, Feb. 3, they will stage a provincewide strike once a week, and each board where they have members will be hit on another day by rotating strikes as well.
Union president Sam Hammond said those plans will go ahead if no deal is reached by this Friday. No talks are scheduled, and none have happened since Dec. 19.
"There is nothing to be gained by (Education Minister Stephen) Lecce avoiding meaningful and fair contract talks other than further damaging the reputation of the Ford government," Hammond said in a statement.
"Educators and parents are not going to accept the government's deep cuts to public education that only serve to harm the quality of education for generations to come."
Lecce suggested unions are only striking to get higher wages, and said the job action will directly impact students and parents.
"The consequences of union-led escalation are real, as families are forced to find childcare on short notice," the minister said in a statement.
Hammond says the main issues in bargaining include classroom size, resources for students with special needs, protection of full-day kindergarten and compensation.
Elementary teachers, along with teachers in other unions, are asking for wage increases around two per cent to keep up with inflation, but the government passed legislation last year capping wage increases for all public sector workers to one per cent for three years. The teachers' unions and several other unions are fighting it in court, arguing it infringes on collective bargaining rights.
ETFO has been staging rotating, one-day strikes at boards across the province this week and last week, and has been on a work-to-rule campaign since November. Both aspects are set to escalate next week, with teachers withdrawing from all extracurricular activities — not just those outside school hours — and ramping up the strikes to include more boards per day.
All 83,000 ETFO members are planning for a provincewide strike on Thursday, Feb. 6.
One-day strikes would be held next Monday in Bluewater, Grand Erie, Halton, Ontario North East, Renfrew County, Superior Greenstone and Trillium Lakelands school boards.
Those would be followed by strikes next Tuesday at the Avon Maitland, Durham, Durham Catholic, Hastings-Prince Edward, Lambton Kent, Peel, Rainbow, Thames Valley and Upper Grand school boards and the Campbell Children's School Authority.
The Kawartha Pine Ridge, Keewatin-Patricia, Lakehead, Near North, Ottawa-Carleton, Penetanguishene Protestant Separate, Rainy River, Simcoe County and Upper Canada school boards would follow suit next Wednesday, alongside the Ottawa Children's Treatment Centre.
The week would end with a strike next Friday in Algoma, Greater Essex County, Hamilton-Wentworth, Limestone, Niagara, Toronto, Toronto Catholic, Waterloo and York Region school boards as well as Bloorview, John McGivney Children's Centre, KidsAbility, Moosonee, Moose Factory and Niagara Peninsula Children's Centre school authorities.
All four major teachers' unions are engaged in some form of job action, from work-to-rule campaigns to rotating strikes. They have been without contracts since Aug. 31, and issues include class size increases, mandatory e-learning and compensation.
Teachers were angered when the Tories announced last March that average secondary school class sizes would jump from 22 to 28 and four e-learning courses would be mandatory for graduation.
The province has since scaled back those increases, to an average class size of 25 and two e-learning courses, but the unions say that's not good enough.
This report by the Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2020.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press