Some 950,000 students are out of class today as elementary teachers hit the picket lines en masse in Ontario in their second provincewide strike to put pressure on the government in contract talks.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is also using the other four days of the week to stage rotating strikes, ensuring each board is hit twice a week.
All four major teachers’ unions are engaging in strikes as bargaining appears to be at an impasse. Teachers in the French system are holding a provincewide strike on Thursday, and high school teachers are staging a one-day strike at select boards that same day.
ETFO President Sam Hammond has said the union was close to a deal with the government after three days of recent talks, but the province’s negotiators suddenly tabled new proposals at the 11th hour that the union couldn’t accept.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce has said compensation is the main issue, and that the teachers are advancing higher wages at the expense of their students.
In a statement issued this morning, Lecce said that the government is “ready to negotiate and reach a deal Ontario students deserve.”
“It is deeply disappointing parents are still seeing repeated escalation at the expense of our students to advance higher compensation, including more generous benefit plans,” he said.
Lecce added that the government has made concessions in talks, including a commitment to full-day kindergarten. Hammond, however, has previously said that the current language of the collective agreement does not ensure the future of full-day kindergarten in the province.
Velvet Lacasse, a Grade 2 teacher in Toronto and ETFO member who spoke to CBC News from a picket line this morning, said the government’s public focus on compensation is an effort to “spin public opinion against us.”
The number one issue for her, she said, is funding for students with special education needs.
“It’s really about our most vulnerable students who need the most support, and this government seems determined to take support and money away from those students in our classrooms.”
Lacasse said she understands that some parents may be frustrated, but that ETFO’s strikes are for the “future of education” and teachers want to be back in school.
“It’s unsettling for students and we want to be back in the classroom. We love teaching,” she said.
“So this is frustrating for us.”