Teacher’s union prepared for strike vote ‘to force’ negotiations

Rob Hammond, the president of the Near North Teacher’s Local of the Elementary School Teacher’s Federation of Ontario, explained that a strike vote “doesn’t mean that we’re going to be out pounding the pavement with picket signs and schools are going to be closed.”

“It doesn’t mean that at all,” he added. “We could pursue some form of job action. There are other avenues that we have available to us to force the government to come to the table and negotiate.”

The union has been without a contract for a year, and a strike vote is planned for this fall, to better leverage negotiations. That vote is timed for late September or early October.

See: Union representing Ontario English Catholic teachers to hold strike vote

“All we’re looking for is a fair and reasonable contract,” Hammond said, “but you can’t have that if the other side isn’t prepared to even sit down and negotiate.”

Over the year, Hammond noted that the union has sat down with the province at the bargaining table over 30 times. “We only had a couple of dates in the summer,” to negotiate.

The union wants increased wages and benefits, but also key is dealing with classroom violence, working conditions, and class sizes. Hammond also noted that the Ministry of Education’s decision to implement a screening tool for literacy for kindergartners to grades 2 isn’t going over very well with the unions.

“The school boards have spent a lot of money putting their own screening tools in place and they have them available to our teachers.” The new screening tools were handed to the board without consultation and no training was offered as to how to implement the tools, Hammond explained.

“Why are you doing this?” Hammond asked of the government. “Are you not even aware of what we already do?”

Hammond added that this top-down rule affects working conditions, and the union “has a long list of things that need to be discussed, and we’re not getting any movement anywhere.”

As for violent classrooms, “it’s a huge issue.” He explained that teachers and “even our principals are getting beaten up on a regular basis,” and the union wants more resources to prevent these incidents. However, “the government is just not interested in helping with that,” Hammond said.

See: School violence remains a troubling issue, union president warns

“This government never had an interest in public education, and I guess they can erode the public’s confidence even further” regarding the safety of public schools by underfunding the issue. He noted that $24 million was provided to help stop violence, but with 72 school boards in the province, the funds spread thin.

“The Near North is a very small part of that, so we’ll get a pittance.”

As for class sizes, the government has a cap of about 24 per room, it varies slightly by school board. The issue, Hammond explained, is that this is an average. One class could have 15, another could be in the high thirties – “assembly line teaching” – and the union would prefer a definite cap on class sizes, not an average.

Hammond reassured that even with a strike vote on the horizon, “there’s usually an escalation that takes place before we implement any kind of job action.”

Therefore, the schools may remain open all fall semester, or they may not. The decision remains in the hands of the province and unions.

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca