The fact the province is now ready to sit down and negotiate with English public elementary teachers is good news, said the president of the Rainbow local of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO).
All Ontario teachers' unions have been in talks with the province since August to work out what issues will be resolved at a provincial level and what issues will be negotiated at a local level. The teachers' contracts expired Aug. 31.
But the ETFO announced Dec. 9 that the process of setting a framework for negotiations has been completed, and negotiations will begin in earnest in January.
ETFO Rainbow president Barb Blasutti said local talks with the Rainbow District School Board will likely begin shortly after provincial-level talks begin.
This new negotiations method was implemented after the government played hardball with the teachers in 2012, freezing their wages and imposing a contract on them, leading to labour disruptions.
“We know that we are going to be there bargaining in good faith, and we don't expect anything different from the other side of the table,” Blasutti said.
“But this is a brand new process, and it's quite complex. So I guess we'll take a wait and see approach, but definitely at this point we are optimistic.”
The ETFO also announced Dec. 9 that its members recently voted 95 per cent in favour of giving their union a strike mandate. Blasutti said this is just a regular part of the bargaining process.
The English public elementary teachers are actually the first teachers' group to announce they're starting negotiations with the province.
James Clyke, the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Association (OSSTF) District 3, who represents Rainbow board high school teachers, said while his union hasn't gotten this far, things are progressing well.
“We're working on a new paradigm, figuring out what's central and what's local,” he said. “That's part of the delay.”
He said OSSTF members already gave their union a strike mandate in September.
Rainbow District School Board vice-chair Dena Morrison, who leads the board's bargaining process, also said she thinks the movement on the ETFO talks is good news.
No dates have yet been set for local bargaining, though, she said. “That's probably some time away,” Morrison said.
She said she doesn't know what issues will be dealt with locally or provincially, although larger issues such as remuneration and benefits will likely stay at a provincial level.
Trustees were largely excluded from the process two years ago, much to their chagrin. But this time, the Rainbow board is being represented at the table by the Ontario Public School Board's Association.
“Really, this is kind of a new process everybody's embarking on,” Morrison said. “But we're all trying to figure our way through this thing and remain optimistic. But at the end we'll get collective agreements in place.”