Teachers' unions escalate work-to-rule campaigns as labour relations deteriorate

Kate Dubinski

By Kate Dubinski, The London Free Press

An empty classroom of an elementary school in Peterborough taken on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. Clifford Skarstedt/Peterborough Examiner/QMI Agency

An empty classroom of an elementary school in Peterborough taken on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. Clifford Skarstedt/Peterborough Examiner/QMI Agency

Just when things were looking up — Ontario reached deals with several teachers’ unions — it all began to get bleak again.

A month into the school year, the labour unrest in the province’s schools continues at every level, in Catholic and public boards, in the classroom and in hallways and offices.

Various contract breakdowns mean secretaries, custodians, educational assistants and teachers are engaged in job action.

Union members have had directions from their unions about what they can and cannot do. Among them:

  • Public high school teachers aren’t attending staff meetings or filling in for principals.
  • Public elementary teachers aren’t going on field trips or collecting money for Terry Fox runs.
  • Caretakers aren’t cutting grass or sweeping hallways.
  • Librarians aren’t doing paperwork and secretaries aren’t clearing jammed photocopiers.
  • Educational assistants aren’t doing photocopying, and early childhood educators aren’t doing head lice checks.
  • All support workers in the Canadian Union of Public Employees are taking breaks at the same time.

“Our (educational assistants) have not withdrawn any services where it’s safety-related,” said Heather Skolly, who represents EAs and others with the Thames Valley District school board.

“We are the forgotten union as far as the province goes.”

Public elementary teachers are focusing on classroom activities, said Craig Smith, president of the local wing of the 74,000-member Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario.

“The last thing teachers want is to do a full withdrawal of service. We need to do what we feel is needed to reach a full and negotiated contract,” Smith said.

Both sides have agreed to return to bargaining, but relations between elementary teachers and the province have been tense.

Last week, elementary teachers escalated their work-to-rule campaign and threatened rotating one-day strikes as the government urged them to accept deals similar to those of their colleagues in public high schools and the Catholic school system.

The two other large teachers’ unions approved agreements that included a one per cent bonus and a 1.5 per cent pay increase, while the union representing teachers in Francophone schools also reached a tentative contract.

As part of its work-to-rule campaign, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said members wouldn’t take part in parent-teacher meetings or class trips or fill in for absent colleagues.


Public elementary teachers:

  • Represented by Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. Doing administrative work-to-rule, meaning no class trips or parent-teacher meetings. Both sides ready to return to bargaining table.
  • English Catholic elementary and high school teachers: Represented by Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association. Have settled their contract, locals still have to bargain and ratify.
  • English high school teachers: Represented by Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. Provincial deal done but not yet voted on. Locally, began work-to-rule job action this week after talks broke down with the Thames Valley District school board. Teachers don’t attend meetings or training, for example.
  • Support staff: Catholic and public board employees represented by Canadian Union of Public Employees. Include educational assistants, early childhood educators, custodians, librarians and secretaries. Work-to-rule began this week.