Ontario teachers ramp up PR campaign ahead of negotiations

Amid tense negotiations, Ontario teachers are launching public relations campaigns with new advertising aimed at parents.

Catholic and elementary teachers' unions hoping to win over parents ahead of talks

Ontario's three largest teachers' unions are in a legal strike position as of Monday, with just weeks left before students are set to return to class. (Whitney Leggett/Associated Press)

With tense negotiations looming, Ontario teachers are launching public relations campaigns with new advertising aimed at parents.

The province's three largest teaching unions are all in a legal strike position and with classes set to resume in three weeks, two have launched ads to get their side of the argument across.

Each union is negotiating separately with the provincial government as well as school boards who are represented by two umbrella groups, the Ontario Public School Boards' Association (OPSBA) and the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association (OCSTA).

"The Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association is standing up for teachers because classroom time should feed young minds not big data," a radio ad put out by Catholic teachers says.

OECTA president Ann Hawkins says the campaign reflects the fact that teachers are most upset about working conditions and hiring practices.

"The reality is most of our differences have not been about monetary issues," said OECTA president Ann Hawkins.

Catholic teachers are set to resume talks next week, as will the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF). They're also set to begin a work to rule campaign on Thursday.

Premier 'optimistic' about talks

On Monday, Premier Kathleen Wynne said negotiations with the teachers' unions are her number one priority and that the government will work hard to ensure students are in school come September.

"I'm more optimistic than I was a few weeks ago," Wynne said.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), meanwhile, has been focused on a public transit poster campaign, featuring messages like "Class size matters."

Sam Hammond, ETFO's president, spoke with more than 800 teachers in Toronto on Monday and said there will be more public messaging coming.

"You'll see more of it in the very near future," he said.

Hammond reiterated his call for the province to demonstrate "a real commitment to negotiate in good faith."

"If that doesn't happen then I say to the government and I say to the OPSBA, you are in the for fight of your lives."

Parents uneasy about negotiations

ETFO has agreed to return to bargaining on Sept. 1, but Hammond is also set to announce an escalation of the federation's ongoing work-to-rule campaign on Thursday.

Parents like Valerie Laurie, whose 4-year-old son is set to begin junior kindergarten in Toronto this fall, says she's starting to worry about the negotiations.

"I'm frustrated that there hasn't been any movement," she said.

"It doesn't feel like there's been any negotiating happening at all. They had two months to figure it out."

Many teachers are also expressing concerns about a full-scale strike, Toronto teacher and union steward Catherine Inglis said.

"I hear that from a lot of the teachers who I work with, that everyone's a little worried that we might get to that stage," she said. 

Most students are set to return to classes on Sept. 8. 

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated both sides had taken out ads about the negotiations, in fact only two of the unions have released ads. It also stated the Catholic teachers' union had released a television ad, when in fact that ad ran on radio. The OSSTF was also incorrectly called the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Foundation, when it is in fact the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation.
    Aug 18, 2015 10:10 PM ET

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