The Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) has reached a tentative deal with secondary school teachers and occasional teachers, even as elementary school teachers across the province are stepping up strike action.
On Oct. 22, both the WRDSB and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation District 24, which represents high school teachers in the Waterloo Region announced that negotiations have come to an end after 18 months with no contract.
Both sides say they are happy to see an end in sight.
“OSSTF teacher and occasional teachers Local 24 have been trying to work through their negotiations, so we are pleased,” said Marty Deacon, WRDSB superintendent of communication and engagement. “It has been a while.”
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OSSTF District 24 president Sherry Freund echoed Deacon’s sentiments.
“I will confirm that we are relieved today to have finally reached a tentative agreement with our employer,” she wrote in an email statement to the Observer. “I am very proud of our team and I am confident that we have proven the importance of standing strong in demanding that local bargaining under this new process will be a meaningful and respectful process.”
To take the agreement from tentative to concrete, member teachers will be given a chance to read the details of the local deal and vote on its contents. Both sides are staying mum on what is contained in the deal, but say the vote and meetings with stakeholders should be complete in the next couple of weeks. At that time, it will be made public.
The tentative deal comes as the provincial government made public the decision to cut a check to the OSSTF for $1 million to aid with expenses the union incurred during the negotiation process. A payment that Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris says is harmful to students and taxpayers. He also disagrees with negotiation practices employed by the provincial Liberals.“Look, taxpayers are already paying Wynne negotiators for their botched bargaining that has impacted students across the province,” he said in a statement. “Now, we have to pay for the other side too?”
Elementary school teachers’ unions have not received any funds from the province to cover the costs of negotiating a new contract.
On the same day the Local 24 and the WRDSB made public their tentative agreement, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) announced their plan to amp up strike action, removing themselves from extracurricular activities in the hopes of prompting a return to the negotiating table.
Greg Weiler, ETFO Waterloo Region president, says teachers will stop running and participating in voluntary activities outside of regular classroom hours.
“The list of activities that teachers might otherwise provide is lengthy, but would include things like sports teams, inter and intramurals, clubs, choirs (and more),” he said, adding that some program won’t be changing. “Breakfast programs and Remembrance Day activities are a couple of things that are not affected at all.”
The escalated strike action will affect extracurriculars at all elementary schools in Woolwich and Wellesley townships, however Weiler says all classroom learning will continue as usual.
“Teachers continue to perform all of their classroom planning, instructional and assessment functions. Throughout this there has been a real effort to ensure that student learning is not impacted,” he said, adding that the most recent strike action isn’t something the teachers want to do. “Extracurriculars were something that we tried to avoid, but we are really without many other options at this point and frustrated that the government and OPSBA (Ontario Public School Boards’ Association) haven’t committed to getting this all done. The hope is still that with the advance notice provided, the government and OPSBA will commit to meeting and resolving things before further these actions come into effect.”
Weiler wants to see an end to the strike action as soon as possible and is looking to the OPSBA for a response.
“After receiving no response from the government and OPSBA about meeting and getting dates, the escalation is being undertaken to motivate them to come back to the bargaining table and get this situation resolved once and for all,” he said. “It is unfortunate, but the process is taking too long and each time that we have faced such difficulties the only thing that has moved the other parties along is escalation or the threat of it. We hope that they return to the bargaining table soon so that the whole situation can be resolved and none of these actions need to be in place anymore.”
On Tuesday, WRDSB officials announced that elementary school progress reports are being postponed until further notice.
“Given the current cumulative impact of provincial labour action on the part of elementary teachers and WRDSB support staff (secretaries, custodians and supervision monitors in schools as well as some central staff), the Waterloo Region District School Board, along with most other public school boards in Ontario, is postponing Elementary Progress Reports,” said Lynsey Meikle, the board’s communications officer.
Students were sent home with a letter detailing the delay and informing parents that as soon as the labour disruption is resolved, progress reports will be handed out “if time allows.”
Students around the WRDSB, including a small group at Conestogo Public School, weren’t happy to hear that their extracurricular activities may be cut due to the escalated strike action and used their right to protest the upcoming action on Monday morning. Students at Park Manor Public School followed suit on Wednesday, staging a protest. The Observer was not allowed on the premises and told to contact the school board.
Deacon says the students were well within their rights to have their voices heard.
“Over the weekend (Oct. 23-25), through social media, we became aware that some students were planning a protest for (Monday) to express their frustrations around the planned withdrawal of extracurricular activities,” she said in a statement released by the WRDSB. “We have been working with staff at the school to make sure that students are able to have their voices heard through protest and are ensuring that our students and schools remain safe. Students have been respectful during this protest.”