DAN CEARNS The Standard
NORTH DURHAM/ KAWARTHA: With collective bargaining talks between the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and provincial officials seemingly at a standstill, elementary school teachers across Ontario have started participating in rotating strikes. ETFO began rotating strike action at select schools on Monday, January 20th, with Kawartha Lakes teachers at Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) participating in strike action on Tuesday, January 21st. “Other than cuts to education, Ford’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce has refused to give his negotiators a mandate to discuss the substantive issues we know are important for students and education workers,” ETFO President Sam Hammond said, in a press release. There has been no central table bargaining between the two sides since Thursday, December 19th. ETFO Durham president Mary Fowler said the union presented the province with a revised proposal, which saw them move away from some of their asks, but they have “not seen” the same commitment to bargain from the government. “People who have been on our team for a long time are sharing that never before have they seen so little dialogue at the table,” Ms. Fowler said. She explained some of the things the union is looking for from the government, is a commitment to keep the full day kindergarten program, additional supports for students with special needs, and to lower class sizes. “Lowering class sizes will allow teachers to meet the needs of all of their students,” Ms. Fowler said. In the wake of upcoming labour action, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced, on Wednesday, January 15th, a new plan to reimburse parents up to $60 per day for if strike action impacts their child care plans. “Our aim has always been to reach a negotiated settlement that keeps kids in class, which we have done successfully with multiple labour partners to date,” Minister Lecce said, in a press release. “We recognize the impact of union escalation on families is real, and unions expect hard-working families to bear the costs of their cyclical labour action. While unions impose hardship on families and students, our government is taking proactive steps to ensure students remain cared for, and families supported, in the event that unions decide to further escalate job action in their fight for enhanced compensation and other demands.” Full information on the program can be found at Ontario.ca/SupportForParents. Though Mr. Hammond called the program merely an attempt for the government to win over the public. “This is a transparent attempt to bribe the public to support the government. Doug Ford’s Education Minister is trying to cover up the fact that this government is making massive cuts to public education and wants more cuts to elementary education at the bargaining table,” he stated, in a press release. “We understand the hardship that strike action creates for parents and that some will feel the financial pinch. We are asking that parents continue to stand with educators as we defend our children’s education now and in the future.” Ms. Fowler agreed with Mr. Hammonds point, calling the program, and the minister’s recent comments, “very disingenuous.” “We would rather they sit down and bargain with us,” she said. “Our members want to be teaching, They want to be in schools, and not on picket lines. But they also understand this is about the defence of public education in our province.” Ms. Fowler said talks at the local level with the Durham District School Board (DDSB) have not yet started, but they are hopeful to start that round of bargaining soon.