Elementary teachers' union agrees to contract extension deal with government
TORONTO -- Ontario's elementary school teachers and education workers have agreed to extend their contracts by two years, leaving the Liberal government nearly free of teacher negotiations ahead of the next election.
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario is one of the last major education unions to agree to such a deal, joining the French teachers' union, several support staff unions, and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association.
ETFO says if ratified, the contract extension will improve the working conditions of its members and the learning conditions of students.
Education Minister Mitzie Hunter says the government is in communication with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation about a contract extension, but there are no dates currently scheduled for formal talks.
The current contracts with teachers and support staff are set to expire this August, so these new deals would last until August 2019 -- well after the June 2018 election.
A new bargaining system leaves a handful of local teachers' unions in an odd position. The last round of negotiations were the first in which the unions reached central deals with the government, then local deals were to be bargained with each school board across the province.
There are still five local deals -- out of 471 -- that still have yet to be reached. The elementary unit of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association is among the five and is set to start rotating strikes -- while OECTA has agreed to an extension of its central deal until 2019.
The local union has had 20 bargaining dates since November 2015, and the remaining sticking point is over internal hiring and movement, said president Aldo Grillo.
"Obviously I don't think that was ever contemplated or imagined that 15 months later there would still be units without a collective agreement," he said.
The Thunder Bay OECTA occasional teachers, as well as the regular elementary teachers and occasional teachers with OECTA in the Niagara Catholic board, and Canadian Union of Public Employees education workers with the Conseil scolaire de district catholique de l'Est ontarien are also without deals.
The latter group has also given notice of a strike, set to begin Sunday.
The last central round of education negotiations were contentious, with support staff and elementary teachers staging work-to-rule campaigns and the government threatening to dock their pay.
The government also took heat during the last set of talks for the costs incurred during the lengthy bargaining, as three unions were promised $2.5 million to cover their negotiation costs.
Contract extension talks arose as part of discussions with education-sector unions over a court ruling that said the government violated their collective bargaining rights.
Legislation in 2012, known as Bill 115, imposed contracts on teachers that froze some of their wages and limited their ability to strike, so five unions took the government to court. The judge sided with them, but left the question of a remedy up to the government and unions to decide.