143,000 educators to launch strike action

by | Nov 22, 2019

A sign advertises holiday concerts outside Vincent Massey Public School on Smyth Road. Extra-curricular student activities like concerts won’t be impacted by the ETFO work-to-rule starting on Tuesday. Photo by Emma McPhee.

 Both high school and elementary teachers may start work-to-rule on Tuesday

Ottawa’s public school students may have to wait for their full report cards as teachers and educators plan Phase 1 of strike action next week.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, representing 143,000 Ontario teachers and education workers, want to put pressure on the provincial government after months of failing to reach collective agreements.

“It is disappointing that ETFO has decided to escalate to a partial withdrawal of services, which hurts our kids, despite a limited number of outstanding items at the table,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce in a written statement on Thursday.

“I stand with parents who know that labour action by unions hurts our students, and we will work to ensure students remain in the classroom.”

As part of the work-to-rule, teachers will not complete report cards aside from providing marks or, in the case of kindergarten students, one brief comment. Provincial standardized tests are also out.

Voluntary services such as professional training, staff, school board and ministry of education meetings and responding to administrative emails outside of instructional hours will also be on hold during the work-to-rule period, expected to start next Tuesday.

At the start of each school day, teachers not supervising students will enter their schools in a group.

In addition, high school teachers will also participate in “information pickets,” handing out pamphlets to share their concerns about the state of education in the province. These will occur outside of school hours or during lunch time, and pamphlets will not be given to students. 

Graphic illustration by Emma McPhee

Unions say it’s ‘business as usual’ for students

However, it’s not likely parents will notice much of a difference at their childrens’ schools.

Both unions have said that the strike action will impact the ministry of education and school boards, and that school activities for students will go on as normal.

“It is business as usual for the kids,” said Elizabeth Kettle, president of the Ottawa-Carleton unit of the elementary teachers’ federation. 

“Teachers will still be in the classroom, they’ll still be teaching, supporting the [students’] needs, making sure they’re safe. There are still extracurricular activities going on at this time. Field trips are continuing at this time.”

But Lecce, in a second statement on Friday, said that students should not have to “pay the price” for the failure of the parties to reach a collective agreement.

“The bottom line is I want kids in class. I want deals that ensure predictability for the parents of this province,” he said.

Parents support teachers’ strike action

Meagan Hatch, the mother of a Grade 1 student at an Ottawa area public school, said she thinks parents are supportive of teachers while they are going through “certain battles” with the government.

“We want to maintain a good education system,” Hatch said. “I have concerns about the education system in Ontario, generally, especially with little kids that are just going into school. The Ford government is making a whole bunch of significant changes … and that worries me quite a lot.”

Hatch said that so far she’s treating next week like a normal school week, and she doesn’t feel the need to explain the work-to-rule campaign to her daughter until the strike results in noticeable changes. 

“[My daughter] knows her schedule. She knows what she does every day of the week,” she said. “So, if all of a sudden it’s not the same, she’s going to notice, and we’ll have that conversation at that time.”

This isn’t the first time the public elementary school teachers’ union has taken strike action in the last decade. In 2012, the union held a one-day rotating strike, protesting Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act, which limited the ability of education unions to strike. They also held a work-to-rule campaign in 2015. 

On the other hand, the secondary school teachers’ union hasn’t undergone province-wide strike action in over 20 years.

“Generally, teachers don’t go straight on and strike,” Kettle said. “So certainly, that’s not something where we would go right away. We want to put pressure on the government, and we don’t want to have to impact the students. Does that mean we at some point will we have to [strike]? Maybe. But our hope is that we don’t have to get there.”

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation voted 98 per cent in favour of a strike option on Nov. 1, having failed to reach a collective bargaining agreement with the province. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation teachers voted 95.5 per cent in favour of strike action, while education workers voted 92 per cent in favour on Nov. 18. 

On Nov. 21, the secondary school teachers’ union announced it would be joining its elementary counterpart in a work-to-rule campaign starting Tuesday, Nov. 26.