Ontario elementary teachers reach tentative contract deal

By Allison Jones in Toronto

Ontario’s public elementary teachers announced Tuesday they have reached a tentative contract with the provincial government, averting central strikes for the next three years, if the deal is ratified.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said the deal covering 80,000 teachers and occasional teachers “protects their collective agreement entitlements and also addresses key bargaining goals,” but it is not making details public yet.

“This has been the longest round of central bargaining in ETFO’s history, but we persisted,” president Karen Brown wrote in a statement.

“We remained focused on getting government cuts off the table and on addressing members’ working conditions, which are students’ learning conditions.”

The union is set to share details of the agreement with members on Thursday.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said it involves “some items” that will be decided through binding arbitration.

Ontario has already agreed to give public high school teachers and ETFO education workers retroactive salary increases to compensate them for constrained wages under a law known as Bill 124. Amounts were agreed to for two of the three years affected by Bill 124, but the amount for the third year will be decided at arbitration.

Lecce would not confirm if that was among the items to be settled for ETFO’s teacher members. He urged the two other teachers’ unions, representing English Catholic teachers and teachers in the French system, to agree to deals.

ETFO’s deal came after well over a year of bargaining.

“Perhaps some of the teacher unions (are) reading the room a bit better today than in the past, recognizing that the parents, which we all serve and support, they want their kids to be in school,” Lecce said.

Members of ETFO had previously voted 95 per cent in favour of a central strike, and Brown said that is what made the difference at the bargaining table.

“Once they saw that strong mandate, we saw some movement,” Brown said in an interview. The talks nearly went in the opposite direction, she said.

“We continued to see that movement when we were pushing to go to a no-board report, which meant if they weren’t going to move, we were going to file for a no-board report, which would begin the process of a strike.”

The minister said he is pleased the deal will eliminate the threat of central strikes for the life of the deal, if ratified.

“(It) allows them to get back to basics and strengthen their reading, writing and math scores,” he said. “This is what matters most to the government.”

Local deals also get bargained with individual school boards and Brown said ETFO locals retain the ability to strike if those negotiations stall.

The government is still in bargaining with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, whose members also voted in favour of a strike, and with the union representing teachers in the French public system.

Meanwhile, public high school teachers are going to binding arbitration with the government in order to get a new contract, eliminating the possibility of a strike.

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2023.