Kitchener-Waterloo

Elementary teachers job action could begin this month, but union says it won't impact students

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario says its members will begin work-to-rule strike action that is set to begin Nov. 26 if a new contract is not reached. Meanwhile, English Catholic teachers voted 97 per cent in favour of strike action.

'Nobody wants to go on strike,' says Patrick Etmanski, president of Waterloo Catholic Teachers

Three teachers' unions are currently negotiating new contracts with the Ontario government. (CBC)

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario says work-to-rule will begin on Nov. 26 if they cannot come to an agreement with the province on a new contract by then.

The teachers' union says the action targets the ministry and board administrative tasks.

The work-to-rule action "will not affect students, their learning or their safety," ETFO president Sam Hammond said in a release about the action Thursday morning.

It comes after the union for English Catholic teachers announced its members voted 97 per cent in favour of a strike.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario requested a no-board report on Nov. 4, triggering a 17-day countdown to possible job action

Greg Weiler, president of the Waterloo region chapter of the union, says there is still time to reach a contract before Nov. 26, but things don't look good.

"There have continued to not be responses to our proposals at the table or the issues that we've brought to the table, so there haven't really been any meaningful discussions," he said.

He says historically, the union has started out with work-to-rule, minimizing the impact on students. That could lead to rotating strikes or a full walkout at some point, he says.

The Waterloo Region District School Board issued a statement Thursday about the work-to-rule strike action, saying there are no details on what that will look like locally.

"As we learn more, we will share information with you as quickly as possible to keep you informed," the board said.

Catholic teachers' talks continue

The results of the strike vote by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) were released late Wednesday.

It shows members are 97 per cent in favour of authorizing strike action.

Liz Stuart, president of OECTA, said in a statement that sends a message "loud and clear" to the provincial government.

"The government will try to portray this as teachers escalating tensions, but the reality is they have created this situation by continuing to pursue their reckless cuts to education," Stuart said.

In a statement, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said strike action could mean school closures, disruption, and uncertainty for students and parents.

"I support a deal, not a strike," Lecce said. "Our team remains unequivocal in our determination to land deals with our labour partners, as we did successfully with CUPE, to provide predictability and certainty to parents, and to keep our kids in the classroom."

Patrick Etmanski is president of Waterloo Catholic Teachers, the local chapter of OECTA, and he says the union's bargaining team has met with the province and the trustee's association more than 20 times in trying to negotiate a contract.

"Things are still proceeding only maybe not as quickly as anyone would have hoped," he said.

Etmanski says the vote results may now lead to a no-board report later this week or early next week. Then there would be 17 days until a legal strike could take place.

But, he added, a strike vote doesn't mean a strike will take place, it's just another step in the process.

"We're hearing the same unease, both with parents and teachers. Nobody wants to go on strike," he said.

Talks are expected to take place Thursday and Friday and "perhaps even into the weekend," he said.

He says if they get to a point where there is job action, "there will be lots of notice to parents and to school boards about what is going to happen next. Nobody wants to surprise anybody."

Secondary school teacher strike vote wraps Friday

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) is currently in the midst of a strike vote, which is set to wrap up on Friday.

OSSTF president Harvey Bischof says a no-board report was issued on Nov. 1, so it means the union would be in a legal strike position on Monday, Nov. 18, except there is an additional requirement under the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act that means they have to give at least five days notice before going on strike.

It means there will not be a strike on Monday. As well, Bischof says talks are scheduled for this week and four days next week.

Bischof says as a parent himself, he understands the anxiety some parents may be feeling about the uncertainty.

"What parents should know is that we are doing our very best at the bargaining table … in order to reach an agreement that supports high-quality learning conditions for students," he said.

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