SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) Another of Ontario’s biggest public sector unions has given its leaders permission to call a strike if delicate talks with the provincial government over a new contract break down.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, representing 76,000 public school teachers, voted 95 per cent in favour of striking, the union announced late Tuesday.
That follows an announcement by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union that members of its three bargaining units made the same decision in several days of voting, with strike mandates ranging from 88 to 96 per cent.
“Going into bargaining, our members have sent a powerful message that they will not stand for a repeat of the last round of bargaining involving contract strips and unconstitutional legislation removing our bargaining rights,” said teachers’ federation president Sam Hammond in a statement posted to the union’s website.
The votes don’t means strikes are imminent, or even likely. They’re meant to give the unions’ bargainers clout at the bargaining table by indicating that the thousands of workers they represent are behind them. OPSEU has two days of negotiations scheduled this week and the elementary teachers are due for bargaining in the new year, following preliminary talks that Hammond has said were respectful and productive.
Disastrous bargaining with teachers’ unions two years ago led to work-to-rule campaigns and rotating strikes and contributed to the end of Dalton McGuinty’s premiership.
His successor, Kathleen Wynne, has sought a better relationship with public sector unions but has also insisted there’s no money for pay increases or other goodies in their contracts, making bargaining tricky.
A new system for negotiating with teachers, at least, puts big questions like pay to one central negotiation rather than dozens of local ones, which is supposed to keep those talks more orderly.
OPSEU has had a combative relationship with the Liberals, from supporting the New Democrats’ decision to force an election last spring to demanding an inquiry into how the government makes deals for big construction projects this week. Corrections officers represented by OPSEU have picketed ministers’ offices to protest the government’s opening offer.