Everything We Know About The Ontario Teacher Strikes

Ontario elementary teachers continue rotating strikes through February, with a province-wide strike by all teacher unions planned for Friday, February 21.

A classroom with empty desks and no teacher

Photo, iStock.

All Ontario teacher unions will come together on Friday, February 21 for a one-day strike. This includes The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) and The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA).

Additionally, OECTA announced its members will continue rotating strikes the week of February 24 if an agreement is not reached. A full strike schedule can be found here.

ETFO members will not participate in any extracurricular activities starting February 3. OECTA also announced that members will be enhancing their administrative job action on Tuesday, February 11. This means they will only undertake their scheduled teaching and supervision duties, and will not accept additional tasks or assignments.

The move comes after earlier rotating strikes that saw a series of school boards, including the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), shut down for a day at a time. Ontario’s French-language school boards, or AEFO, also announced a work-to-rule campaign starting January 23. They launched phase three of strike action which includes all members walking out one day a week, province-wide, every week. The first walk out was February 13, 2020.

TDSB recently announced they will be cancelling first term report cards for elementary school students—as per an email sent to parents and guardians stating the ongoing job action by ETFO includes sanctions related to report cards. Other school boards cancelling report cards include the Peel District School Board, Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board representing Peterborough and area, and Thames Valley District School Board in the London region.

In terms of secondary students, TDSB says they will receive semester one report cards with marks only.

In the meantime, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced that the Ford government will reimburse parents of kids up to age 12 for up to $60 a day in childcare costs during a possible strike, which would cost the province $48 million per day. EFTO president Sam Hammond described this as “absolutely insane,” adding that the millions should be invested in students instead.

When asked if he would consider back-to-work legislation, Lecce said it was not the focus of his ministry at this point.

While some parents believe teachers are only looking for salary increases, the ETFO maintains that its most pressing issues include resources for special education, protection of Ontario’s full-day kindergarten program, smaller class sizes, reduction of violent incidents and fair compensation for educators—particularly occasional teachers, early childhood educators, professional support personnel and education support personnel.

“ETFO made every effort over the past three days to move negotiations forward but it became increasingly clear that the Ford government was not willing to address key issues in any meaningful way,” Hammond said in a statement on Friday.

Inside the escalating war over Ontario’s classrooms on The Big Story podcast.

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Talks and negotiations between teachers and the government began in August, with very little progression, and job action has already begun, with many teachers currently in a work-to-rule situation, others in walkouts.

If my kid’s daycare is in a school, will it still be open?

If your baby or toddler’s daycare is located in a school and there’s a strike, you may be wondering if it will close. Answer: It depends on several factors, but there’s a good chance it will stay open. Daycare centres are typically separate entities from the schools in which they are housed. Unless their workers refuse to cross a picket line, they will in many cases remain open. It’s a good idea to speak to your daycare’s supervisor as soon as possible to get their insights on how things might play out.

Why is all this strike and work-to-rule talk happening now?

Doug Ford’s government has made cuts to education in its bid to shrink the deficit and many people aren’t happy. Teenagers walked out of school over larger classes and fewer course options. School boards are reeling from cuts to government grants that have led them to give out pink slips to staff from teachers to custodians.

But it’s also important to understand that school labour negotiations come around every three years, and with them, talk of strikes and work-to-rule. As parents, we need to understand this is part of the normal cycle of a unionized workplace, and using the threat of job action is part of the process. Since education contracts typically come up for renewal at the end of August, we start hearing about teacher bargaining and possible strikes just as we’re getting our kids ready for back-to-school. Admittedly, the timing can be unnerving.

If there is a general strike, how long would it last?

The last big province-wide strike lasted two weeks. That said, there’s no clear limit—although when school strikes drag on so long they threaten the students’ academic year, the province tends to order them back to work. But in recent years unions have been more selective in how they use strikes, sometimes opting for rotating one-day strikes in different cities. Unions also can target a handful of school boards with strikes, as the high school teachers’ union did in 2015 in Peel, Durham and Sudbury, cancelling classes for some 70,000 teens for almost a month. The Ontario Labour Relations Board eventually ruled the walkouts illegal and Queen’s Park ordered teachers back to work.

What exactly does “work to rule” mean?

Generally speaking, it refers to a labour reduction or a slowdown. It means workers fulfill their contractual obligations to their employer.

What can I expect if teachers work-to-rule?

This has been a popular tactic in recent years, to devastating effect. In a work-to-rule, teachers typically boycott after-school activities, shutting down sports teams, field trips, drama clubs, music programs, student councils, Me-to-We clubs, charity events and sometimes cancelling graduation ceremonies. Teachers also have refused to add comments on report cards, or conduct the province’s standardized tests.

If you want to keep up with labour developments, here’s who to follow:

  • The government of Ontario controls the funding of education. The buck stops, and starts, here. @Oneducation on Twitter.
  • The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA). As the umbrella group for the 31 English-language school boards and 10 regional authorities that educate 70 percent of Ontario school children, OPSBA is the official employer sitting at the bargaining table, even if the government holds the purse strings. @OPSBA on Twitter.
  • If your child goes to a Catholic school, it’s the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA) that’s bargaining on behalf of 29 Catholic school boards that educate 575,000 students. @CatholicEdu on Twitter.
  • Children in most Ontario public schools are supported by members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents 55,000 support workers in all Ontario schools—elementary and high school, public and Catholic, English and French. @CUPEOntario on Twitter.
  • If your child goes to a public elementary school, their teacher belongs to the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the largest teacher union in Canada with some 83,000 members. @ETFOEducators on Twitter.
  • If your child goes to a public high school, their teachers belong to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), whose 60,000 members include teachers and some support staff including social workers and speech pathologists. @osstf on Twitter.
  • If your child goes to an English-language Catholic school, from kindergarten to Grade 12, their teacher belongs to the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA.) @OECTAProv on Twitter.

With files from Louise Brown and Radiyah Chowdhury