Published August 29, 2023

Elementary teachers reject Ontario's offer to head to arbitration, avoid strike

Lecce - CP

By Liam Casey in Toronto

Public elementary school teachers in Ontario have rejected the province's offer to head to arbitration to avoid a strike, its union president said Tuesday.

Karen Brown, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, said the union will instead file for conciliation.

Last week, the province and the union that represents English high school teachers agreed to negotiate until the end of October and send outstanding issues to arbitration.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce urged the three other teachers' unions to agree to the same deal that avoids a strike.

Brown said Tuesday that ETFO was refusing that deal. 

"This government is trying to be a bully and they're trying to impose someone else's agreement, someone else's terms and conditions, on our members," she said at a news conference.

The arbitration route that the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation have agreed to go down is not something ETFO members want to do, she said.

"At this point in bargaining, binding arbitration is rolling the dice with our members' hard won rights and entitlements," Brown said. 

"The Ford government is currently demanding significant cuts to sick leave benefits and professional development. Binding arbitration would mean that the arbitrator is a hundred per cent in control."

She said the best chance to get those cuts removed is through bargaining. 

The union would also prefer to deal with certain issues through bargaining, Brown said. Arbitration will not address violence in schools, recruitment and retention issues, challenges with the hybrid learning model and special education supports, she said.

Brown argued Lecce had created a "false narrative" over the past week that arbitration is the solution to fix the bargaining process.

"We have a right under the Ontario Labour Relations Board to go through the full bargaining process, and that is to apply pressure for them to be at the bargaining table," Brown said.

Brown said the pace of negotiations with the government has become unacceptably slow. There's been no progress on a deal through 30 meetings over the past year, which is why the union is filing for conciliation to iron out some of the major issues, she said.

The union also plans to hold strike votes in September, Brown said.

Lecce said the government has made "every effort" to get a deal with ETFO and was urging the union to accept its latest offer.

"We first offered ETFO private mediation, and the union rejected it," he wrote in a statement.

"We then offered a new proposal to keep negotiating and send outstanding matters to a mutually agreed upon interest arbitrator that keeps kids in class and ETFO rejected that, too."

He said the union had decided to "proceed on the path to a needless strike, instead of negotiating a deal that keeps kids in class."

The unions representing teachers in the French system and the Catholic system have also said arbitration is not for them. Both plan to hold strike votes sometime this fall.

Banner image via The Canadian Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2023.

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