By Doug Hallett
The local public school board has cancelled all field trips until further notice now that the union representing its elementary school teachers has started work-to-rule strike action.
The work-to-rule, which includes a union ban on teachers participating in any voluntary or extracurricular activities, could soon escalate to teachers staying away from schools for at least a day.
It’s not yet known when this sort of total work stoppage could happen at the Upper Grand District School Board, said Doug Cook, president of the Upper Grand local of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. “Some sort of schedule is being worked out provincewide” by the ETFO union leadership, he said in an interview Monday. “It hasn’t been fully determined if it’s a one-day isolated thing or somewhat longer,” said Cook.
Different federation locals are reaching a legal strike position at different times under Ontario’s Labour Relations Act, with the Upper Grand local having reached that point by Monday.
The elementary teachers’ union has promised to give parents and school boards 72 hours notice of a walkout by any of its locals.
The province has given public school boards and their two teachers’ unions until Dec. 31 to reach two-year contracts that reflect the contents of Bill 115, which was passed in September.
ETFO’s contract talks “haven’t been productive at the local level,” Cook said. “We are hamstrung by Bill 115, and it is critical that the minister of education comes to terms with the reality that Bill 115 was a mistake.”
Meanwhile, work-to-rule action by three non-teaching locals of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation resumed Nov. 29. The three OSSTF locals represent a wide range of workers including clerical and office workers, educational assistants and professional support workers.
They reached tentative agreements with the Upper Grand board, but haven’t ratified the deals. The only OSSTF local that has ratified a deal is the bargaining unit representing Upper Grand’s high school teachers.
“The unions have said that their sanctions are administrative in nature and are not designed to compromise student safety. Schools have contingency plans in place,” said a Nov. 29 notice on the Upper Grand board’s website about the union job actions.
As well as cancelling all elementary school field trips, the Upper Grand board is reviewing planned overnight trips in its schools, the notice said.
The overnight trips include those to places such as Ottawa, which typically happen late in a school year and involve a lot of fundraising, said board communications officer Maggie McFadzen. “Parents are all concerned about those,” she said in an interview Monday.
Cook said Monday that 97% of local ETFO members voted in favour of a strike mandate this fall in a vote that he said had “the highest turnout for a strike vote that we’ve ever had.”
An ETFO directive to local elementary teachers last week lists four things they must continue to do in schools and 13 things they must stop doing, as of Monday.
Previously, before the local was in a legal strike position, individual teachers were allowed to decide if and how they wanted to show their opposition to Bill 115, which includes a wage freeze, sick-pay cutbacks and other measures, including restrictions on teachers’ right to strike.
Here’s what elementary school teacher federation members have been told.
They must continue to:
• teach and provide extra help to students
• take attendance
• maintain contact with parents regarding students during the instructional day
• provide scheduled supervisory duties.
Ordered to stop:
• participating in parent interviews outside the instructional day
• participating in field trips, play days or class excursions;
• participating in voluntary/extracurricular activities
• participating in staff meetings and school committee meetings
• participating in Education Quality and Accountability Office activities or testing
• conducting any reading, writing or mathematics diagnostic assessments “other than those that the teacher deems necessary”
• attending any board-sponsored professional development activities
• doing any administrative duties
• acting as “teacher designate” or “teacher in charge” where the role is voluntary
• distributing for management any board or ministry memos about the union’s work-to-rule or labour negotiations to students or parents.