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Ontario elementary public teachers vote overwhelmingly in favour of strike action

Members of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) have voted overwhelmingly in support of a possible strike.

ETFO has been holding mass meetings with its members over the past 2 months

ETFO president Sam Hammond is flanked by elementary school teachers at a Friday news conference. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Members of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) have voted overwhelmingly in support of a possible strike.

Union members voted 98 per cent in favour of job action amid rising tensions between teachers' unions and the province.

ETFO president Sam Hammond called it a "solid, overwhelming strike vote" for Canada's largest teachers' union.

Teachers have voiced concerns around issues including class sizes, a lack of front-line assistance and violence in classrooms.

Hammond said those concerns have "fallen on deaf ears" during negotiations with the Ford government.

ETFO, which represents 83,000 public elementary teachers, occasional teachers and educational professionals, conducted the votes in September and October.

The union is currently not in a strike position, as talks are ongoing. Contracts with a number of education sector unions expired Aug. 31 and negotiations are at various stages.

In the case of the public elementary school teachers, meetings with a conciliator are scheduled to begin on Monday.

Union 'will not consider funding cuts'

Over the past two months, ETFO has also been holding mass meetings with members to discuss central bargaining issues. In mid-October, the union filed for conciliation after negotiations at its central bargaining tables had stalled.

ETFO and other major education unions have been critical of the government's overall direction since it took power in June 2018, including recent moves to increase class sizes for Grade 4 and higher, mandate e-learning courses and reduce per-student funding to boards.

"ETFO will not consider funding cuts for elementary programs in this system," Hammond said at a Friday news conference. 

"If anything, and we have said it before, funding to elementary classrooms and schools, the elementary program in this province, needs to be and must be enhanced."

'I support a deal, not a strike,' said Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce after learning about the vote results. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Education Minister Stephen Lecce disputed the union's characterization of the talks, and said the province has been "reasonable and constructive" during bargaining.

"ETFO has taken another escalating step toward a strike, which will disproportionately hurt our kids," he said in a news statement issued after the vote results.

"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​​​​​​," Lecce said.

ETFO said more support for students with special needs, reducing class size at the elementary level, supports to address the growing problem of classroom violence, and job security, were among its bargaining priorities.

Protection of Ontario's internationally recognized kindergarten program and the preservation of fair and transparent hiring practices will also figure prominently on the union's agenda for the negotiations with the province and school boards.

High school teachers and teachers in the English Catholic system are also holding strike votes, with results expected in the next couple of weeks.

With files from The Canadian Press

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