Canada: Job Action Ramps Up For CUPE And ETFO

Last Updated: October 1 2015
Article by Eric M. Roher

Most Read Contributor in Canada, September 2016

On September 29, 2015, the Canadian Union of Public Employees ("CUPE"), which represents 55,000 education workers in the province, moved into Phase 2 of its Work-to-Rule plan. The Work-to-Rule campaign involves a range of school board employees, such as custodial and maintenance staff, clerical workers, educational assistants, early childhood educators and library workers.

The Work-to-Rule plan outlines a number of instructions for each CUPE classification. For example, among other things, educational assistants are instructed:

  • to undertake lunch duty, hall duty, yard or stair duty for special educational students in their care;
  • not to prepare materials of any kind for class;
  • not to deliver attendance sheets; and
  • not supervise student detention.

With respect to custodial and maintenance workers, under Phase 2, they are instructed:

  • not to cut grass, tree trimming or fall clean- up, unless a health and safety risk;
  • not to sweep hallways or entrances;
  • not to clean chalkboards/white board or empty pencil sharpeners; and
  • not to do minor maintenance, such as small repairs or painting.

CUPE has been in a legal strike position on central issues since September 10, 2015. Negotiations with the province and the trustee associations broke down on September 28th. In response to the Work-to-Rule campaign, school boards are developing plans to ensure that students are properly supervised and that school facilities are safe, clean and secure. There is an expectation that this job action will escalate over the next few weeks creating some uncertainty in Ontario schools with CUPE staff.

Elementary Teachers' Federation Of Ontario

On September 11, 2015, talks broke off with the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario ("ETFO") after the province made an offer it described as parallel to what other teachers unions have accepted.

ETFO, representing 78,000 public elementary teachers, has been in a legal strike position since May 2015.1

On September 21, 2015, ETFO escalated its work-to-rule strike action. ETFO has threatened to begin rotating strikes in October and to scale back non-teaching activities, asking teachers to demonstrate solidarity on "Wynne Wednesdays". Under Phase 3 of ETFO's campaign, on "Wynne Wednesdays" the teachers will:

  • Refrain from any activities that take them away from their classrooms;
  • Demonstrate union solidarity by wearing ETFO buttons, caps or T-shirts or a union colour;
  • Send messages to the Minister of Education or the Ontario Public School Board Association (OPSBA) about the importance of "fair and reasonable collective bargaining";
  • Engage in planned lobbying activities including pickets, rallies and letter-writing campaigns.2

Phase 3 of ETFO's campaign involves a long list of changes, including "Wynne Wednesdays" when teachers will not work outside the classroom. They will also participate in pickets, rallies, letter-writing campaigns and wear ETFO T-shirts, buttons and hats.

As part of Phase 3 of the job action, ETFO is telling its members not to fill in for absent teachers, take on extra duties during scheduled preparation time or update classroom websites, blogs or newsletters.

ETFO is also directing its members not to participate in any in-school meetings or professional learning activities on PA days, opting instead to use the time for their own professional development in the classroom.

In addition, ETFO is telling its members not to respond to e-mail, electronic or phone communication from administrators, unless it involves the safety of others, absences, day plans or occasional teacher assignments.

ETFO has released a plan for Phase 4 of the work-to-rule campaign, which will begin in October if a deal is not reached. Phase 4 will include rotating strikes "if sufficient progress has not occurred".3

Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation

Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation ("OSSTF"), representing 60,000 public high school teachers reached a tentative deal with the Province on August 20, 2015. The teachers' union leaders endorsed the tentative contract on August 22nd.4

OSSTF has suspended its strike action plans and teachers will resume extra-curricular activities. 5 OSSTF members ratified the agreement on September 18, 2015. The agreement does not cover support workers, such as educational assistants, social workers and custodians, who are also OSSTF members. Their talks are continuing at the central table with the province and school board associations.

OSSTF has negotiated a series of small salary increases totalling 2.25 percent over the next two years: a one-time lump sum payment of one percent for all teachers and occasional teachers for the upcoming school year; one percent salary increase for teachers as of September 1st, 2016 and another one-half percent halfway through the 2016/2017 school year.6

OSSTF members will be allowed to take sick leave for medical or dental appointments.7 In addition, long-term occasional teachers will double their maximum allowable sick days from 60 to 120.

Teachers will also get one additional P.A. day. Teachers obtained greater leeway to use their professional judgment, including a commitment to consult them about any changes to student grades.8

The province had indicated that it would permit only a "net zero" contract in which salary increases would be offset with cost savings. A senior government official stated that the OSSTF agreement "is consistent with the government's net zero bargaining framework."9

Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association

On August 25, 2015, Education Minister Liz Sandals announced that the province and the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association had reached a tentative agreement with the provinces 34,000 English Catholic teachers.10

The tentative deal was similar to the terms reached by their public high school counterparts. Local OECTA presidents endorsed the agreement on September 1, 2015. OECTA members ratified the agreement on September 17th.11

Similar to the OSSTF agreement, the tentative deal gives OECTA members a 2.25 percent salary increase over the next two years. The agreement also provides an added professional development day and keeps much of the contract the same, including a teacher's right to choose which level of diagnostic test to use, and how often.12

As with the tentative deal with OSSTF, Minister Sandals said that the OECTA agreement meets the province's "net zero" requirement — meaning any extra costs will be funded by savings elsewhere in the contract.13 Kathy Burtnik, President of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association, stated that "working within the fiscal restraints of the current bargaining framework was challenging, but surmountable with the concerted efforts of all parties.14

An agreement with OECTA will allow all 29 Catholic school boards, which includes both Catholic elementary and secondary schools, to operate without labour unrest for the next two years.

In addition, on September 16, 2015, the French- language teachers, representing 10,000 teachers, reached a tentative deal.


Notwithstanding the three tentative agreements with OSSTF and OECTA and the French-language teachers, the province and trustees' associations are diligently working to reach deals with ETFO, CUPE and other support workers. It should be recognized that both ETFO and CUPE are in legal strike positions. The province continues to face job action in the education sector. In particular, CUPE represents custodians in many school boards who maintain and clean school facilities. A strike or other job action by CUPE members could have a significant impact on the operation of schools. It should also be recognized that the agreements reached with OSSTF, OECTA and the French-language teachers could put significant pressure on the other unions to settle.

Under the provisions of the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act, 2014, there is a voting process in respect of collective bargaining by an employer bargaining agency. On September 18, 2015 OPSBA ratified the tentative settlement reached with OSSTF and OCSTA ratified the tentative deal reached with OECTA.


1. Kendra Mangione, "Ont. Elementary teachers' union resumes contract negotiations", CTV Barrie News, September 1, 2015.

2. Kendra Mangione, "Ont. Elementary teachers to launch Phase 3 of work-to-rule", CTV News, September 18, 2015.

3. Ibid.

4. Selena Ross, "Ontario teachers' union endorse tentative agreement with schools", The Globe and Mail, August 22, 2015.

5. Ibid.

6. Andrew Francis Wallace, "Ontario high school teachers to get increase in pay, not class size", The Star, August 22, 2015.

7. Supra, Note 8.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Adrian Morrow and Selena Ross, "Ontario strikes tentative deal with English Catholic teachers' union", The Globe and Mail, August 25, 2015.

11. Louise Brown, Kristin Rushowy, "Catholic teachers hammer out tentative deal with province", The Star, August 25, 2015.

12. Louise Brown, "Tentative deal gives Catholic secondary teachers raises similar to public boards", The Star, September 2, 2015.

13. Ibid.

14. Supra, Note 15.

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