1) What is a strike vote?
A strike vote is a vote by union members to determine if they are willing to initiate a collective work action (i.e., stopping, slowing down or curtailing work). Before its members can legally go on strike, ETFO (like all unions in Ontario) must hold a strike vote.
ETFO is negotiating the 2022 round of collective bargaining under legislation called the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act, 2014 (SBCBA). The SBCBA provides for two levels of bargaining – central (i.e., provincial) and local — and calls for separate central and local strike votes.
To read the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act, click here.
2) Does having a vote in favour of a strike mean that we’re going on strike?
ETFO negotiates for agreements – not strikes. No union wants a strike, but a strike (or lock out) can occur when both sides can’t reach an agreement. Even so, a strike is always seen as a last resort and is only used when bargaining reaches a stalemate (also called an “impasse”).
While a strike vote is an important milestone in negotiations that may provide ETFO bargaining teams with some extra leverage at the bargaining table, it doesn’t mean that a strike is inevitable. Historical data and experience shows that having a high strike vote early in the bargaining process actually decreases the chance of a strike and can encourage the parties to settle more quickly.
3) Does a member vote in support of strike action mean that walking a picket line is inevitable?
A strike is a job action, and that can mean many things – it doesn’t necessarily mean walking the picket line. For example, work-to-rule is a form of strike action. Work-to-rule may mean: focusing on teaching and not attending staff meetings; not completing report card comments; not filing paperwork; etc. The paring back of such extras has little impact on students, but can place considerable pressure on school boards and governments to bargain fairly.
In 2005, for example, ETFO members engaged in a work-to-rule. They attended class every day and focused on their teaching duties and students, but they didn’t do administrative duties (e.g., attend staff meetings, file paperwork, supervise extracurricular activities, etc.). That strike action on the part of ETFO members hastened the negotiation process and resulted in significant gains to our collective agreements, including an increase of preparation time to 200 minutes per 5 instructional days.
The one day province-wide rotating strikes in December 2012 – which were part of a response to an unprecedented attack on ETFO members’ bargaining rights through Bill 115 – provided the pressure necessary to support ETFO’s aim of negotiating significant improvements to collective agreement provisions imposed under Bill 115. The rotating strikes also placed considerable pressure on the government to eliminate the 2% salary penalty imposed on ETFO members during the 2008 round of bargaining.
During the 2014 round of collective bargaining, in response to demands from employer bargaining agencies for concessions (such loss of self-directed preparation time and strips to sick leave provisions), ETFO members engaged in legal strike action between May 2015 and November 2015 that included not attending staff meetings and not administering EQAO testing. The employers’ concessions were removed from the bargaining table as a result of ETFO members’ solidarity during work-to-rule.
In 2019, ETFO members engaged in work-to-rule strike action that escalated to rotating strikes in the winter of 2020. This helped us to put pressure on the employer to come to a fair agreement that was ratified overwhelmingly by ETFO members on April 28, 2020.
4) How will I know if/when strike action is going to happen?
Should any form of strike action take place – such as working-to-rule – members will be kept informed and up-to-date through local and provincial communication channels. There will be frequent updates provided through print publications, emails, school visits and information meetings about the specific type of strike action that will be taken and how members should proceed.