By Louise BrownUpdated Nov 28, 2019
Update, November 28, 2019: Ontario’s public high school teachers say they will hold a one-day strike next week as their ongoing labour dispute with the province continues to escalate.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation says it will hold a "province-wide full withdrawal of services’' on Wednesday, Dec. 4, if a new deal isn’t reached before then. Public high school teachers started an administrative work-to-rule campaign on Tuesday that includes not putting comments on report cards, not participating in standardized testing, and not attending certain meetings. The four major teachers’ unions have all expressed frustration with what they say has been a lack of progress at the bargaining table with the province. Elementary teachers also started an administrative work-to-rule campaign this week. The Catholic teachers’ union has talks scheduled Friday involving a conciliator, and French teachers will hold strike votes next month. —With files from the Canadian Press
Even before the first month of class is over, schools across Ontario are bracing for labour disruption. As of Monday, Sept. 30, support workers who are represented by CUPE have launched a work-to-rule campaign over job cuts, with janitors refusing certain tasks such as sweeping hallways and office administrators no longer placing those early-morning calls for supply teachers. While the union did return to the bargaining table over the weekend, it failed to bring a deal, so the work-to-rule has begun.
But that’s not the only labour brush fire underway right now in Ontario schools. The high school teachers’ union just took the unusual step of publicizing its contract demands, which include reversing the government’s moves to larger classes and forcing teens to take four of their high school courses online. Meanwhile, teachers from Ontario’s 1,500 Catholic schools recently lodged a formal complaint against Queen’s Park for raising class sizes by decree, rather than bargaining.
So, even though there isn’t a whisper of a strike yet by elementary teachers, it makes sense for parents to get prepared for all kinds of labour unrest.
Here's what parents need to know.
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.
Impossible to say, but don't panic yet. While work-to-rule campaigns seem to pop up every time education union contracts come up for renewal, full school strikes are rare. The last full province-wide teachers’ strike was in 1997. That two-week walkout was fuelled by outrage over by cuts to education by the Mike Harris government.
Unions must always give five days' notice of any “job action,” from a full strike to a work-to-rule (and so must a school board too, if it decides to lock workers out).
No. Strike votes are part of the process of collective bargaining, which simply give the bargaining team leverage at the table designed to put pressure on the employer, but they’re far from a guarantee of a strike. Likewise, don’t panic if you hear a union will be “in a legal strike position” on a certain day. Again, this is part of the long process of collective bargaining, and doesn’t mean there will ever be a strike.
Again, 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 Labor Relations Board eventually ruled the walkouts illegal and Queen’s Park ordered teachers back to work.
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.
Generally speaking, it refers to a labour reduction or a slowdown. It means workers do the bare minimum of work required by their employer.
School boards won’t keep open schools that threaten children’s health or safety, says OPSBA president Cathy Abraham. "But our goal is to keep schools open and students learning in a safe environment.” While some school boards in past CUPE work-to-rule campaigns used head-office managers to clean toilets and collect garbage, Abraham told Today’s Parent that’s not always possible, especially in boards with small head-office staffs and big distances between schools. “We are aware of parents’ anxiety over these situations; most of us are parents who have had kids in elementary school, so we’re going to try hard to have as little disruption as possible.”
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.
There are three groups who come together to hammer out big-ticket items for Ontario schools like salary, benefits and class size. If you want to keep up with labour developments, it helps to know the names of these power-brokers, their acronyms and their Twitter handles.
1. The banker
The government of Ontario controls the funding of education. The buck stops, and starts, here. @Oneducation on Twitter.
2. The employers:
3. The unions:
The situation is confusing and stressful, but one thing to remember is that our children are watching us. How we react to this uncertainty and change will model for them how to do the same. They’ll hear enough panic in the playground, from teacher-bashing to Ford-bashing. We might serve our kids best by keeping calm, giving them the facts and reminding them all players in this labour drama mean well. This turbulence is just part of the cycle of life in Ontario schools.
With files from the Canadian Press