Elementary teachers are set to start voting on a strike mandate.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) says a central strike vote among its 83,000 members will take place over the next two months.
The union says it’s members will be asked for their support for ETFO priorities which include “class size and class structure” and “the full protection of Full-Day Kindergarten.”
ETFO president Sam Hammond says the vote is simply one step in a much bigger process and doesn’t necessarily mean a strike is imminent.
“I absolutely understand that parents may be looking at this, we’re going to take a strike vote and once we get that the next day we’re going to be on strike. That is absolutely not the case,” said Hammond.
“We’ve just decided to go to our members to provide them with information and to get a mandate from them so that all of the parties know that we’re not just speaking on behalf of a few people but we’re actually speaking on behalf of 83,000 when it comes to quality of education in this province.”
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.
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.”
Hammond says since filing notice to commence bargaining the first week of June, the two sides have been at the table on-and-off over the course of the last three months.
“So far it’s been fine. We quickly got to a point where we were able to agree on what would actually be on the central list and discussions since then have gone well,” said Hammond.
“Let’s say I’m cautiously optimistic. Let’s have this conversation at the end of September and I may have a better understanding and be able to guage talks a lot better at that time.”
Contracts for teachers and education workers at the province’s publicly funded schools expired at the end of August.
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.