Ontario elementary teacher's union asking members to vote on strike mandate
TORONTO -- Public elementary school teachers in Ontario are set to vote on whether to go on strike if their pending contract negotiations don't go their way.
The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario said a general strike vote would take place at a series of meetings planned for late September and October.
ETFO said the meetings are intended to update its 83,000 members on previously agreed-upon collective bargaining priorities as contract negotiations with the Progressive Conservative government get underway.
Union president Sam Hammond said conducting a central strike vote is part of the legal bargaining process, but added the union would prefer to forge ahead without a labour disruption.
"ETFO's goal is to reach an agreement at the central bargaining table without having to take job action," Hammond said in a statement Wednesday. "It is committed to continuing negotiations at the bargaining table until a fair and reasonable collective agreement can be reached for public elementary educators in Ontario."
Contracts for teachers and education workers at the province's publicly funded schools expired at the end of August, and the Progressive Conservative government had said it wanted to open negotiation talks early.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce has called on all parties to reach a deal as soon as possible "to provide predictability and confidence to parents, students and educators alike."
ETFO and other major education unions have been critical of the government's overall direction since taking power last June, including recent moves to increase class sizes for Grade 4 and higher, mandate e-learning courses and reduce per-student funding to boards.
The union said the series of meetings scheduled to take place over the next few weeks will allow members to hear updates on the union's priorities for the upcoming round of contract talks. They include protection of full-day kindergarten, class sizes, hiring transparency and increased funding for students with complex needs.
Officials with the Ministry of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment on ETFO's upcoming strike vote or provide a status update on negotiations with the province's teachers.
But the government has stated that its recent changes to education policy are part of a broader effort to constrain public sector wage increases and reign in a $11.7-billion deficit.
The government has already hit a road block in negotiating with another one of the province's major teacher unions.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation has previously said that talks with the province and its various school boards had stalled before they'd truly begun, citing disagreements over which issues should be negotiated at which bargaining tables and a reluctance to streamline the bargaining process.