Elementary teachers vote in favour of strike action in Brampton

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The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), a union that represents 83,000 teachers in Ontario, has voted overwhelmingly in favour of possible strike action. 

The announcement comes just weeks after the province came to an agreement with CUPE, effectively avoiding an education workers' strike in Ontario. 

"As you know, the ETFO members in every part of the province have attended meetings over the past month to discuss the ETFO's central bargaining negotiations. They've heard that the government is unwilling to hear about student learning conditions and their working conditions in any meaningful way," ETFO Sam Hammond told reporters during a press conference on Nov. 1. 

Hammond said that 98 per cent of members voted in favour of central strike action should it be required. 

Hammond said that in multiple meetings with the province, its members have expressed their "deep concern and frustration" about front line support for students with special and unique needs, class sizes and class structure, violence in classrooms and the preservation of Ontario's "world-renowned" kindergarten program.

"All we receive are evasive non-answers," Hammon told reporters. 

Teachers' unions have been negotiating with the provincial government since their contracts expired on Aug. 31. The negotiations follow several months of tense interactions between the province and teachers, during which educators have protested what they say is inadequate funding for public education.

Earlier this year, additional funding from the government was received in time to call back most teachers who had been declared surplus due to expected funding cuts. 

Teachers' unions have also protested the Doug Ford government's pledge to increase class sizes. Recently, Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, walked back the government's pledge to increase class sizes from 28 students to just 25 at the secondary school level. 

On Monday, Nov. 4, the ETFO will meet with a conciliator appointed by the Ministry of Labour. 

"Results of strike votes show that our members are overwhelming behind their central bargaining team and expect the government to get serious at the bargaining table," Hammond told reporters. 

Hammond said ETFO members are concerned about the fact that the government has not committed to renewing $50 million in funding towards special education teachers who work with elementary students. Hammond also said the union is worried that the government has not committed to renewing $39 million in funding to support early years, special education, at-risk, ESL and Indigenous students. 

Hammond said the government is asking the union to agree to up to $150 million cuts to public elementary education. 

"The ETFO will not consider funding cuts. We have many elementary school classes where teachers have 30 or more students with diverse learning needs. They receive the least amount of funding of any student group. 

Hammond said the province and school boards have failed to acknowledge serious issues with violence in schools, adding that the union is demanding real supports be put in place for students. 

Hammond also said the union wants the province to commit to continuing to fund the province's current kindergarten model. 

Premier Ford responded to Hammond's press conference during an interview with Newstalk 1010. 

"No one was surprised on the percentage of the vote, it sends a clear message to parents that they want to escalate this," Ford told radio personality, Jerry Agar. 

"[Stephen Lecce] has done an incredible job, he's compromised on bringing classroom size down from 28 to 25. Our main goal is to get the kids in the classroom and keep them in the classroom and get a fair deal." 

It is not yet known if a strike will actually take place. 

Negotiations are ongoing. 

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