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ETFO is Prepared for All Challenges from the Ford Conservatives

Sam Hammond

ETFO had five days of respectful talks at the central bargaining table this summer with the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association and the Council of Trustees’ Association. We were able to agree on a central list by the end of summer. While a promising start, it’s too early to know where the talks will lead in the coming months.

Despite the Minister of Education’s rhetoric, there was never any doubt that educators would be in the classroom on the first day of this school year. This is a government that doesn’t understand the bargaining process. Bargaining really gets underway once contracts have expired, which was August 31 of this year. The question is how much the Conservative government will try to interfere or steer the discussions at the bargaining table.

The Ford Conservatives have amply demonstrated what they are all about. This is a government that cancelled the planned minimum wage hike and repealed many labour laws offering paid sick days, equal pay for part-time and casual workers and other improvements that our labour movement won previously with Bill 148.

Most importantly, immediately before our bargaining commenced, the Conservatives proposed Bill 124, legislation that would impose a one per cent limit on all negotiated compensation for educators and other public sector workers. The reality is that this year’s inflation rate is set to be about two percent. The timing of this legislation was meant to set a chilling tone for negotiations.

The good news is that ETFO is prepared for every eventuality as central bargaining heats up. Our list of bargaining priorities was developed with members, our Representative Council and provincial Executive. We have an engaged and mobilized membership that is 83,000 members strong following our member engagement campaign, Red for Ed actions and MPP lobby efforts over the past year.

In July, I met with new Education Minister Stephen Lecce. I reminded him that it’s not helpful to make statements about rushing negotiations in a way that is just not possible under government legislation. I also told him that ETFO members don’t need to be lectured about their “moral duty” to their students by anyone in this government. Members understand their moral duty to their students; that’s why tens of thousands of them from across the province made the trip to Queen’s Park on April 6.

ETFO’s central negotiations are about much more than compensation. The Ford Conservatives’ massive cuts to public education have helped shape our bargaining goals which include additional special education supports, protecting class size, discussing class composition issues and job security as well as improvements to occasional teacher hiring practices, workload and working conditions and health and safety protections for students and members.

When it comes to public education, the public does not trust the Ford government to protect the interest of students. In a poll conducted for ETFO by Innovative Research this summer, 61 percent of Ontarians believe the Doug Ford Conservative government is on the wrong track. Only 16 percent of the public trust the government to protect the interests of students compared to 51 percent who trust teachers.

Significantly, almost three-quarters know that the Kindergarten teacher and designated early childhood educator team is important to the success of the Kindergarten classroom. Seventy-six percent think that Full-Day Kindergarten classes need to have a teacher in the classroom full-time. ETFO couldn’t agree more. We will continue to be champions for Full-Day Kindergarten in the public and political realm and at bargaining tables.

When it comes to collective bargaining for all teachers, occasional teachers, designated early childhood educators, educational support personnel and professional support personnel, know that ETFO has your back.

I ask that you stand in solidarity with your provincial Executive and our negotiating team. Together, we will stand up to the Ford Conservatives, their cuts to education and the challenges they will present at the bargaining table.

– Sam Hammond