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Ontario's public elementary teachers vote in favour of strike mandate


The union representing the province’s public English elementary school teachers has announced that its members have voted 95 per cent in favour of a strike mandate as negotiations continue.

“This strong strike mandate sends a very clear message to the government,” Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) president Karen Brownsaidin a press release.

“Our members have been working for over a year without a contract, and their patience has run out,” she continued. “We need the government to stop stalling and start negotiating seriously on our members’ key priorities, like providing more supports for students with special needs, acknowledging the staffing crisis in education, putting a fair compensation offer on the table, and addressing violence in schools.”

This strike mandate does not guarantee that ETFO members will be engaging in work-to-rule strike action or heading to the picket lines, but the union now has that option if negotiations stall.. Labour negotiations will continue in the days and weeks to come.

Strike votes were called by ETFO and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) in September after both unions rejected the province’s offer to take outstanding issues at the bargaining table to binding arbitration.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) is the only one of the four main teachers’ unions that agreed to the province’s offer.

Last month, nearly 80 per cent of OSSTF members voted in favour of a deal with the government to continue contract talks until Oct. 27 before sending any remaining items to an arbitrator. The agreement means that the union will not take strike action while trying to hammer out the details of its latest collective agreement.

OECTA is holding its strike votes on Wednesday and Thursday.

Speaking to reporters at Queen's Park, Education Minister Stephen Lecce reiterated his call to ETFO to accept the province's arbitration offer.

Lecce pointed out that 80 per cent of OSSTF members voted in support of the province's proposal.

"I really do hope that ETFO we'll move quicker with this government to get this deal done. I know we can. I remain cautiously optimistic. I do believe parents are expecting the parties to move and to get this done," the minister said.

"And the government has now delivered a deal. Four hundred thousand high school students now do not have any fear. They'll be in school for three straight years without interruption. And I just simply want to deliver that same predictability for every child, English and French public and Catholic in the province of Ontario."

Lecce is hopeful that ETFO and the remaining education unions will accept the province's offer to avoid a strike.

"One hundred per cent of Ontario families have been abundantly clear after the pandemic and after rotating strikes, they demand the union and government and school board come together to keep their kids in class, and I, as minister, will do everything I can to make that case to get the unions to move quicker and to sign the deal that keeps his children in school," he said.

Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner expressed support for potential strike action in a press release.

"The education system is in crisis," he said. "And the government is refusing to deliver what students need.

"The tens of thousands of teachers and education workers who voted in favour of strike action are fighting for our kids."

In a joint statement released in August, ETFO, OECTA, and AEFO said entering into binding arbitration “would not support students” and it would “all but guarantee” that key issues brought forward at their respective bargaining tables “would not be addressed.”

“The Ford Conservative government has continually refused to engage in substantive discussions with our unions, despite our many attempts to make progress at our respective bargaining tables,” the statement, released on Aug. 25, read.

“We once again call on the government to respect our right to free and fair collective bargaining, and come to our bargaining tables prepared to engage in meaningful discussions about critical issues facing publicly funded education in Ontario – issues such as increased violence in schools, resources and supports for student mental health, teachers’ use of professional judgement, and addressing the teacher shortage.”

When it comes to public support, internal government polling provided to CTV News Toronto suggests that the majority of Ontarians may not be supportive of strike action.

The polling, conducted by Leger on behalf of the Ford government between Sept. 28 and Oct. 3, shows that about 68 per cent of respondents believe teachers unions should accept binding arbitration to avoid a strike.

About 46 per cent of respondents said they would hold teacher unions mostly responsible if a strike were to occur, the online poll of 1,035 people found, while about 34 per cent said they would hold the province responsible.

More than half of respondents said they would support the use of legislation to stop teachers from going forward with strikes that would result in school closures. It should be noted that online polls do not provide a margin of error.

With files from CTV News Toronto’s Katherine DeClerq Top Stories

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