By Doug Hallett
The Upper Grand District School Board and its high school teachers have ratified a new contract under what’s being described as “very odd, very difficult” circumstances, but local elementary teachers are poised to start limited strike action as soon as Monday.
The Upper Grand local of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) will be in a legal strike position under Ontario’s Labour Relations Act by Monday, and board chair Bob Borden said limited strike action could begin that day in local elementary schools.
With lots of issues still to be settled with the ETFO local, “we are running out of runway,” Borden said in an interview Wednesday.
He also said a Dec. 31 deadline is looming for the local ETFO talks. That’s the deadline set by the provincial government for locals of ETFO and the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers’ Federation to reach deals with their school boards that reflect the contents of Bill 115, the education legislation approved in September.
Elementary teachers in some other parts of Ontario, including York Region, are already taking part in the work-to-rule strike action that’s expected to spread to the Upper Grand board as soon as Monday, Borden said. “There are a lot of administrative things that teachers are no longer doing” at these boards, he said, under the work-to-rule campaign being directed from ETFO headquarters in Toronto.
As of Wednesday, the Upper Grand board was the only one in Ontario where both the board and the OSSTF local had ratified a new contract. While both sides were ratifying the deal here on Tuesday, high school teachers in OSSTF locals in York Region and Niagara voted that day against ratification of tentative deals with their boards.
The situation is “very odd, very difficult,” Borden said. However, he said his board is “very pleased that our union saw the benefits of approving the deal that was agreed to despite the very difficult conditions imposed by the Minister (of Education).”
Borden said details of the deal ratified locally on Tuesday won’t be released until the board is satisfied that it isn’t doing anything to jeopardize negotiations at other boards. However, he said he expects contract details will be released “sooner rather than later” through a joint release from the board and the OSSTF’s Upper Grand local.
On Nov. 17, the Upper Grand and York Region boards were the first in Ontario to reach deals with the teachers’ unit of their OSSTF locals. Shortly afterwards, Education Minister Laurel Broten endorsed the two deals and congratulated the two boards and their OSSTF locals for coming up with a workable agreement that’s within the parameters of Bill 115.
Borden said he thinks teachers in the York and Niagara locals rejected the deal Tuesday because of concerns that ratifying local contracts could harm the challenge to Bill 115 being pursued by the OSSTF and ETFO. “I don’t necessarily agree with that,” Borden said. “I think they are two separate issues.”
Bill 115 gives the province the right to impose contracts if local deals aren’t reached by Dec. 31.