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Ontario elementary teachers union files for conciliation ahead of strike vote

The union representing Ontario elementary teachers says it has filed for conciliation for its two central tables, citing an “unacceptably slow pace of bargaining” with the provincial government.

The Elementary Teahers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said it advised the school board agency and government representatives on Tuesday that it would be applying for conciliation with the Minister of Labour for its two central tables — teacher and occasional teacher and education worker.

ETFO president Karen Brown said the federation’s central bargaining team has “attempted to resolve key issues to secure a fair deal” for its members.

“But after a full year of bargaining without sufficient progress and negotiations at a standstill, the federation is filing for conciliation,” Brown said in a statement. “Our members have been incredibly patient, but their patience has run out.”

The union said it learned last week that the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation would recommend to its members that they enter into a process to resolve bargaining with the provincial government through a proposal including binding interest arbitration.

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“At this point in time, ETFO does not think this option is viable, given some of the issues the federation would like addressed during bargaining, including: violence in schools, the crisis in the recruitment and retention of educators, the hybrid learning model, the early reading screener, and special education supports for our most vulnerable elementary students,” ETFO said in a news release Tuesday.

Brown said binding arbitration “at this point in bargaining, is rolling the dice with our members’ hard-won rights and entitlements.”

“We are hopeful a conciliation officer – a neutral third party – will help us explore all possible options in reaching agreements that are fair for our members, that support the work they do with elementary students, and that strengthen our public education system,” Brown said.

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What’s more, ETFO said entering into binding arbitration could also “impact local bargaining with individual school boards where many workload and professional issues need to be addressed.”

ETFO said it was able to “make some significant progress” at its Education Worker Central Table initially; bargaining at this table has “been stalled for months.”

According to the federation, there has been “no progress” at the teacher and occasional central table.

“The Ford government is currently demanding significant cuts to sick leave, benefits, and professional judgement,” ETFO said in the release. “Binding arbitration would mean that the arbitrator is 100 per cent in control over what happens to those items. ”

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Brown said the federation’s goal is to “reach fair central agreements” for its members, adding that ETFO is “optimistic that the conciliation process will be successful.”

The collective agreement for ETFO members expired in August 2022.

ETFO, which represents around 83,000 members, says so far there have been 30 bargaining sessions, split between two tables since Aug. 30, 2022.

The union announced earlier this month that it would hold central strike vote meetings across the province from mid-September to mid-October.

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