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‘We don’t want to be here, we don’t want to be on strike’

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For the first time in 2020, there is a glimmer of hope when it comes to ending standoff between the elementary teachers’ union and the government.

However, it is just a glimmer, according to Rob Hammond, the President of the Near North Teachers’ Local, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. “Unfortunately, work withdrawal really seems to be the only way we can get the government to listen to us at this point in time.”

The two sides have been called back to the negotiating table by the mediator appointed by the provincial government. The talks are the first since December 19.

The ETFO has announced an escalation in strike action. The union promised to stage a weekly province-wide action beginning next Thursday. In addition, schools with ETFO teachers would be forced to close a second day next week due to the ongoing rotating strikes.

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Ontario’s English Catholic teachers have announced they will take part in their second strike across Ontario next Tuesday.

Hammond spoke from the picket line before negotiations were to resume Wednesday. “We don’t want to be here, we don’t want to be on strike. We want to be in the classroom working with our kids. We’re hoping with the mediator that both sides will be able to have serious discussions about what matters to parents and teachers the most.”

Local ETFO members picket outside MPP Vic Fedeli’s office, Wednesday. (Stu Campaigne, staff)

One of the ETFO strike locations was in front of MPP Vic Fedeli’s downtown office. In a statement, Fedeli said, “We continue to stand up against the withdrawal of services to Near North students and across our province. Teacher union leaders broke their promise to not adversely impact student learning by withdrawing services for our kids, including EQAO math testing, extracurriculars, and report cards.

“We recognize the impact of union escalation on families is real. That’s why our government launched its Support for Parents initiative that puts money directly into the pockets of parents. The immense uptake of our Support for Parents initiative speaks volumes to the level of uncertainty union-led strike action causes.

“For decades, families have faced union job action far too often. Students deserve better, and most importantly, our government believes they deserve to be in class. We will continue our work with one focus: landing deals that keep students in class.”

Hammond insisted the ball is in the government’s court when it comes to a potential resolution. “If we get back to serious negotiations and there is movement at the table, the Minister of Education could stop this labour dispute tomorrow if he’s willing to sit down and talk to us.

“We could call off the strikes next week, but that’s totally up to the Minister of Education and the Premier.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a televised interview, “I’m going to stand firm. If we’re going to put more money into the system, I think it should go to class, it should go to mental health…I’d rather see more psychologists and psychotherapists, than additional dollars for people who work hard and we value, but who are clearly objectively well-paid, the second-highest in the nation.”

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