Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Several Ontario Teachers' Unions Reject Deal Reached with English Catholic Union

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Several Ontario Teachers' Unions Reject Deal Reached with English Catholic Union

Article excerpt

Ontario teachers' unions reject new deal


TORONTO - The stage has been set for a summer showdown between several powerful unions and the cash-strapped Ontario government, with the looming possibility of labour disruptions in schools across the province this fall.

Four unions representing teachers and support workers said Friday they won't accept the same deal the province reached with English Catholic teachers, which included a two-year wage freeze and unpaid days off.

The union presidents -- who represent elementary, secondary and francophone teachers -- insist their members want to return to work in the fall, but warned that some will be taking strike votes starting in late August.

And if a deal isn't struck before September, the self-styled "Education Premier" Dalton McGuinty may no longer be able to boast about an unblemished record of maintaining labour peace in the province's schools.

"So we've planned, we've prepared," said Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, which represents about 60,000 teachers and other support workers.

"We anticipated this might happen. It's unfortunate, it shouldn't have happened, but we are prepared. Our forefathers fought for our rights and we intend to defend those rights."

The unions say they'll come back to the table, but only if the government shows some willingness to make changes to what they say are unreasonable demands.

The deal with the Catholic teachers is more of a roadblock than a "road map" for bargaining that the education minister has made it out to be, said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario.

ETFO, which has 76,000 members, walked away from the provincial table in late February because it wasn't going to sit down with "a gun at our heads" and negotiate away significant parts of teachers' compensation and benefits, he said.

"I won't do it today," Hammond said. "I wouldn't do it then and I'm not going to do it tomorrow."

He warned the new deal will be bad for students because it removes millions of dollars from the education system.

Rather than gutting collective agreements, the government could get rid of literacy and numeracy initiatives instead, Hammond said.

"So there are other ways to get to where we need to get to in terms of sustaining this amazing education system that we have and respecting everyone involved," he said.

Teachers are paid through school board budgets that are funded by the province. But the Liberals, who are fighting a $15-billion deficit, have made it clear that they're not going to fund any wage hikes for workers in the broader public sector. So if teachers get a raise, the school boards will have to find the money in their existing budgets.

Coran said his union is willing to freeze wages for two years, but won't allow the province to strip benefits that it says it can no longer afford. …

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