All 4 Ontario teacher unions now striking after French educators announce plans for provincewide walkouts

Click to play video: 'As battle over education heats up, could back to work legislation be on the horizon?' As battle over education heats up, could back to work legislation be on the horizon?
WATCH ABOVE: Nearly a million students were out of class Thursday as elementary teachers hit the picket line and more strikes are planned next week. Travis Dhanraj looks at whether or not back to work legislation is now on the horizon. – Feb 6, 2020

TORONTO – All four of Ontario’s major teacher unions will soon be holding weekly strikes after the group representing instructors in the French school system announced its intention to escalate its job actions against the provincial government.

The Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) said it will begin holding provincewide walkouts once a week starting Thursday after contract talks with the government stalled.

AEFO has 12,000 members in the French-language elementary and high school system and had until now only been engaged in a multi-phased work-to-rule campaign.

READ MORE: Rotating strikes resume for elementary teachers after Ontario-wide walkout

Union president Remi Sabourin said a lack of progress at the bargaining table forced AEFO to escalate to “Phase 3” to send a message to Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government.

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“Phase 3 is meant to convey to the government that we can’t just keep staring at each other pointlessly at the bargaining table,” he said in a statement.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday, but the minister has denounced previous union escalation, urging teachers to return to the bargaining table to reach an agreement.

AEFO’s decision sets up a week full of labour disruptions in Ontario schools, with unions representing elementary and secondary school teachers walking off the job on different days, shuttering schools across the province.

The union representing Ontario’s public high school teachers also announced new job action Friday, saying it would be holding another one-day strike at nine different boards, including the province’s second largest – the Peel District School Board.

The job action is scheduled for next Thursday and will also impact the Algoma, Huron-Superior Catholic, Superior-Greenstone, Greater Essex, Avon Maitland, Niagara, Limestone, and Renfrew school boards.

READ MORE: Elementary teachers hold Ontario-wide strike amid stalled contract talks

Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation President Harvey Bischof said the union is attempting to minimize disruption with its job actions while also raising awareness about the ongoing talks.

“Sadly, our measured approach stands in stark contrast to the almost-daily stream of inflammatory statements and disinformation from the Minister of Education,” he said in a statement.

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On Friday, elementary teachers were back on strike at several boards including the Toronto District School Board, Canada’s largest. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario resumed its rotating strikes a day after a provincewide walkout.

Teachers hit the picket lines in the Algoma, Greater Essex County, Hamilton-Wentworth, Limestone, Moosonee, Moose Factory, Niagara, Waterloo and York Region school boards in addition to the one in Toronto.

ETFO members at the Bloorview, John McGivney Children’s Centre, KidsAbility, and Niagara Peninsula Children’s Centre school authorities also walked off the job, along with early childhood educators at the Toronto Catholic board.

Union president Sam Hammond has said the union was close to a deal with the government after three days of talks last week, but the province’s negotiators suddenly tabled new proposals at the 11th hour that ETFO couldn’t accept.

Hammond said key issues include special education funding, full-day kindergarten, hiring regulations and addressing classroom violence.

Lecce maintains that teachers are escalating strikes as a way to angle for higher salaries.

Unions are asking for wage increases of around two per cent to keep up with inflation, but the government passed legislation last year capping wage hikes for all public sector workers at one per cent for three years. The teachers’ unions and several others are fighting the law in court, arguing it infringes on collective bargaining rights.

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Meanwhile, ETFO is planning another second provincewide strike on Tuesday.

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