Ontario’s education minister says the province’s biggest teachers’ union is adding “new elements to their priority list,” including that hiring continue to be based on seniority within the union.
Stephen Lecce’s comments follow an accusation from Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), that the most recent round of negotiations collapsed Friday after the government made an “11th hour” change to its position on hiring practices for teachers “that we just could not agree to.”
“It became obvious to us that this government was willing to scuttle an agreement in an attempt to get support from the public rather than getting a deal,” Hammond said during and interview on CBC Radio’s  Metro Morning Tuesday.
Lecce, who visited Hamilton Wednesday to tour AF Aerospace and to speak with students about trades and education, said the province believes “experience and merit” should be what decides who gets to stand in front of a classroom.
“The truth is, what we’ve seen going into the negotiations is the Elementary Teachers Federation adding some new elements to their priority list, one of which, which has become most concerning for parents in Ontario, is the demand by the teachers’ union to maintain 100 per cent of hiring based on seniority in the union, not based on qualifications or equity considerations.”
Friday marked the first time in more than 41 days that both sides sat down to negotiate. No new talks are scheduled.
Public elementary teachers are ramping up their job action. That means if you have a kid in a public elementary school, they’ll be out of school two days this week. The head of the union explains why, and why talks broke down with the province last week.7:45
Concerns around all-day kindergarten are among the contentious issues that remain outstanding.
Hammond previously said there is no explicit commitment in the current language of the collective agreement.
But Lecce has repeatedly said the government has formally pledged to support to full-day kindergarten.
On Wednesday he described that move as the only new “proposal of substance” the government has committed to and added the government provided the ETFO with a written version of that pledge only to be to told it was “insufficient.”
It feels like there’s a “moving benchmark of success,” the minister said.
Both sides accuse each other of lying
Hammond and Lecce have also clashed over the question of compensation, accusing each other is lying about its role in the negotiations.
“I’m here to tell you, without hesitation, that we did not talk about compensation at that table over that three-day period,” Hammond told Metro Morning.
“This minister needs to stop lying to people, parents and the public,” he added. “Because that did not happen and it was not a key or central issue during those three days.”
But Lecce maintains that’s a “patently false statement” and said benefits or pay were discussed in some form during each of the three days of talks.
Compensation remains a fundamental fault line,” he stated.
“I don’t think it’s acceptable that I have to raises taxes on seniors and low-income families, single parents and middle-class folks here in Hamilton to offset a $1.5 billion increase.”
For his part, Hammond has said Lecce, in media interviews, focused on teachers’ salaries. But the main sticking point is for salaries and benefits for education support workers, who earn less each year than teachers.
“From ETFO’s perspective, fair contract talks must include: appropriate funding for Special Education; a strategy to address classroom violence; maintaining our internationally recognized Kindergarten program; and fair hiring practices,” he stated in a media release.
Government ready to get back to bargaining
All four major teachers’ unions have been without contracts since Aug. 31, and are all engaged in some form of job action.
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 measure in court, arguing it infringes on collective bargaining rights.
Lecce claimed that court challenge proves what the government has been saying.
“They’re fighting us on the streets, they’re now fighting us in the courts,” he explained. “They’re litigating against the government on that compensation, so clearly it is a top priority for them and their members.”
He added he still remains hopeful deals can be reached that the government is “actively ready to get back to the table.”