Elementary public school teachers vote in favour of strike action

ETFO President Sam Hammond (C). Submitted Photo Aug 12-14

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario has released the results of strike votes held across the province over the past month.

Union President Sam Hammond told reporters Friday morning 98 per cent of teachers and occasional teachers voted in favour of strike action if it is needed.

Education support workers also voted 98 per cent of central strike action. Union officials and government negotiators will meet with a conciliator on Monday.

“Our members are overwhelmingly behind their central bargaining team, and expect, absolutely expect the government to get serious at the bargaining table,” Hammond said.

He added teachers had identified the lack of front-line support for special education students, class size, violence in elementary schools, and the preservation of full-day kindergarten in negotiations.

“ETFO has put proposals on the table to address each of these issues, and we have received, all we have received is evasive non-answers,” Hammond said.

Talks between the province and ETFO’s central bargaining committee are said to have been tense, and Hammond alluded to the mood Friday.

“The government has not, has not committed to renewing a $50-million fund put in place in 2017 that provided hundreds of special education teachers that work directly with our elementary students,” he said. “The Ford government has not committed to renewing a $39-million fund to support early years, special education, Indigenous, at-risk students, and English-language learners.”

Hammond told reporters the Ford government has demanded the union accept a $150-million cut to public elementary education.

“No other union, not one, has been asked to find funding cuts to that degree,” he said. “I want to be very clear; ETFO will not consider funding cuts for elementary programs in this system. If anything, and we have said it before, funding to elementary classrooms, and schools, and elementary programs needs to be, and must be enhanced.”

Saying the elementary public system has been underfunded for decades, Hammond said, “we want the government to understand that class size matters in elementary schools, and it needs to be addressed at our table now.”

Hammond said a date for a possible walkout had not been set. He told reporters he wanted to see how talks with the conciliator go first.

After the vote results were released, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said he was disappointed that ETFO is considering a strike.

“While our Government has been a reasonable and constructive force at the bargaining table – focused on keeping kids in class – today, ETFO has taken another escalating step towards a strike which will disproportionately hurt our kids,” Lecce said. “Strike action caused by unions could mean school closures, disruption, and uncertainty for students and parents. I support a deal, not a strike. Our team remains unequivocal in our determination to land deals with our labour partners as soon as possible to keep our kids in the classroom.”

The union represents 83,000 teachers and education support workers across Ontario.

– with files from Paul Pedro