Education Minister Stephen Lecce says it’s time for the province’s elementary teachers’ union to “show up at the table” after telling the government its negotiators are not available to bargain until the end of the summer.
Lecce said while most of the education unions have scheduled upcoming negotiation dates or are doing so, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has said it will not until late August or early September.
“Some unions are available right through the summer,” Lecce told Newstalk 1010 on Tuesday morning. “Some of them have said to us … ‘We’re only available in September.’ Well, September is when the (current) contract ends, so what we’re saying is no … we’ve got to work, we’ve got to get this deal.”
In a statement, union president Karen Brown accused Lecce of “fear-mongering” and “repeatedly (trying) to create a crisis where none exists.
“At a time when educators should be focused on recharging after a stressful school year, they are instead exposed to media interviews where his goals seem to be agitation and division,” Brown said. “Educators deserve to be uplifted, not targeted.”
Brown said teachers will be in their classrooms in the fall, and “as is our usual practice, ETFO is in the process of establishing bargaining dates and is preparing to engage in its regular central bargaining process with government and school board representatives.”
Typically, with education contracts expiring at the end of August, negotiations begin in the summer and ramp up towards the end of it, though deals are rarely reached by the end of the season.
If no deals are reached by the time contracts expire, their provisions continue, and such a situation does not mean there will be immediate job action, strikes or lockouts.
To date, ETFO has met once with the government and school boards’ associations.
Meanwhile, the school board bargaining unit for the Canadian Union of Public Employees has already met twice with the government and boards, and has a third negotiation session booked for Aug. 2, though had hoped for more meetings this month.
Following that, it will bargain on Aug. 8, 9, 15 and 16.
Laura Walton, the CUPE-Ontario School Boards Council of Unions president, said school support workers and parents “are insisting that Minister Lecce stop the cuts to make schools safe and give students the services and staffing they require.”
On Tuesday, Lecce said that extracurricular sports and clubs must be offered to students when they return to class in the fall after two and a half years of disruption because of COVID-19, saying parents have “little tolerance” for job action.
Extracurricular activities, however, remain voluntary, meaning teachers can decide if they want to run them or not.
Karen Littlewood, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said her union has not planned any job action and teachers are free to run extracurricular activities if they wish.
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