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Canada Ontario's public elementary teachers vote 98 per cent in favour of strike action

17:21  02 november  2019
17:21  02 november  2019 Source:   ottawacitizen.com

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Public elementary teachers in Ontario have voted 98 per cent in favour of a strike should it become necessary. The Elementary Teachers ’ Federation of Ontario say talks with the province at the central bargaining table have not progressed in any meaningful way.

Trending. Article content. Ontario ’ s public elementary school teachers have voted 98 per cent in Teachers and the early childhood educators represented by the Elementary Teachers ’ Federation “ Strike action caused by unions could mean school closures, disruption, and uncertainty for students

a group of people in a store: At a rally at Queen's Park on April 6, 2019, thousands of teachers, students and unions came out to protest various education cuts, including increases to class sizes. © Jack Boland At a rally at Queen's Park on April 6, 2019, thousands of teachers, students and unions came out to protest various education cuts, including increases to class sizes.

Ontario’s public elementary school teachers have voted 98 per cent in favour of strike action.

Teachers and the early childhood educators represented by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) are prepared to act if they need to, President Sam Hammond said Friday morning in announcing the results.

The “historic strike vote” sends a message that the government needs to get serious at the bargaining table, Hammond said.

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Ontario elementary school teachers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action amid ongoing negotiations with the province. Cristina Howorun on what issues are creating hurdles in bargaining.

Ontario ’ s public elementary teachers have voted 98 per cent in favour of strike action , a result their union president called “historic” as he accused the Ford Lecce warned that “ strike action caused by unions could mean school closures, disruption, and uncertainty for students and parents.

Hammond said members across the province are concerned about class sizes and structure, lack of support for kids with special education needs and the increasing level of violence in elementary schools that has been “swept under the rug” by school boards and the government.

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His members will not agree to cuts to Ontario’s school system, said Hammond. The union previously said the government, during bargaining, said it was seeking cuts of up to 2.5 per cent in overall education spending and $150 million in concessions in ETFO’s collective agreement.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce released a statement warning that ETFO had “ taken another escalating step towards a strike which will disproportionately hurt our kids.”

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Ontario elementary school teachers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action amid ongoing negotiations with the province. Cristina Howorun on what issues are creating hurdles in bargaining.

Ontario elementary school teachers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action amid ongoing negotiations with the province. Cristina Howorun on

“Strike action caused by unions could mean school closures, disruption, and uncertainty for students and parents,” said Lecce’s statement. “ 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 strike vote by elementary teachers is the latest salvo as tense negotiations continue between the province, school boards and education unions.

ETFO is Ontario’s largest education union, with 83,000 members in English public schools. They are mainly teachers, although the union represents early childhood educators, who work in kindergartens, at some boards. (But not in Ottawa, where the early childhood educators at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board are represented by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.)

The vote does not mean members will strike, but it’s a tool often used to pressure the other side during bargaining.

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Ontario elementary school teachers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action amid ongoing negotiations with the province. Cristina Howorun on what issues are creating hurdles in bargaining.

The Elementary Teachers ' Federation of Ontario is calling the result of the vote an "overwhelming" mandate from its 83,000 members. The union filed for conciliation last month, saying bargaining with Premier Doug Ford' s Progressive Conservative government had reached a virtual standstill.

ETFO resumes bargaining on Monday with a conciliator, said Hammond.

Education unions have launched fierce campaigns against virtually all the the government’s changes to education, including cuts to some funding and the introduction of larger classes.

For elementary teachers, class sizes have risen by just under one student in Grades 4 to 8, with the average moving from 23.8 students to 24.5 students.

Class size restrictions in kindergarten to Grade 3 were not changed.

Wages are also an issue. The government has introduced legislation that would keep wage increases for all public sector workers to no more than one per cent a year.

When asked what wage increase the union was seeking, Hammond did not provide a direct answer Friday, but said the government’s wage-restriction legislation interferes with collective bargaining.

One education union has already agreed to the one-per-cent increase in a tentative agreement reached last month. As part of the deal with the 55,000 school support workers represented by CUPE, the government also agreed to add $78 million in funding to restore jobs that had been cut.

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Ontario elementary school teachers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action amid ongoing negotiations with the province. Cristina Howorun on what issues are creating hurdles in bargaining.

Ontario elementary teachers are holding off rotating strikes for two weeks. Talks and negotiations between teachers and the government began in August, with very little progression, and job action has already begun, with many teachers currently in a work-to-rule situation, others in walkouts.

Here’s what’s going on with other education unions:

High schools

The union representing public high school teachers is conducting strike votes across the province. At the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation plan to hold votes from Nov. 3 to Nov. 5.

At the Ottawa board, that union also represents educational assistants, early childhood educators, office staff and custodians.

On Friday, the conciliator in those negotiations released a “no-board” report, which starts a 17-day countdown to when the both teachers and other staff who belong to the union will be in a legal strike position.

That puts the union in a legal strike position by Monday, Nov. 18. That does not mean they will strike, just that they are legally entitled to stage work actions, which could include a work-to-rule, partial or general strike.

The big issue with high school teachers is the government’s plan to increase class sizes and require students to take four courses online.

The government has ordered school boards to increase the average high school class from 22 to 28 over the next four years. Lecce suggested during bargaining that class sizes could only be increased to 25 instead. Union officials rejected that idea, saying the government also wanted to eliminate the limits on maximum class sizes now contained in many collective agreements.

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This year, the average high school class has gone up to 22.9 students, causing some board to cancel classes. Ottawa has been insulated from the impact partly because enrolment is increasing so the boards are taking in extra revenue.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board hasn’t raised class sizes yet. At The Ottawa Catholic School Board, class sizes were projected to increase to 23.5 students this fall. As a result, that board planned to cut 45 class sections at its 15 high schools.

If classes are increased to an average of 28, about 10,054 teaching positions would be lost across the province, according to Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office.

All education unions across Ontario are expected to complete the strike vote process by Nov. 15.

English Catholic schools

The union representing 45,000 English Catholic teachers will conduct strike votes on Nov. 12 and 13. It will be done electronically, so results should be known quickly.

French-language schools

Negotiations are not as advanced for the union representing teachers from French-language school boards. Substantive bargaining only began in early October and is continuing, with dates scheduled for the next two weeks.

jmiller@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JacquieAMiller

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