Ontario elementary teachers vote overwhelmingly in favour of strike mandate

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Ontario elementary school teachers return overwhelming strike mandate
WATCH: Elementary school teachers in Ontario have voted 95 per cent in favour of potential strike action as negotiations with the Ford government drag on. As Global News' Queen's Park bureau chief Colin D'Mello explains, the vote doesn't necessarily mean classrooms will close this fall – Oct 18, 2023

Ontario’s public elementary school teachers have overwhelmingly voted to walk off the job if negotiations with the Ford government end in a stalemate, creating a new pressure point on the province’s education system.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), which represents 80,000 educators, said it received a strike mandate of 95 per cent.

Receiving the mandate does not automatically mean teachers will stage a strike, but allows the union to pressure the province with a potential strike at the bargaining table.

“This strong strike mandate sends a very clear message to the government,” ETFO President Karen Brown said in a statement.

“Our members have been working for over a year without a contract, and their patience has run out. 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.”

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Brown said negotiations would continue.

In his own statement, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said he was disappointed by the strike mandate. He said the government has stayed at the negotiating table “to avoid a strike and keep kids in class.”

Lecce added, “We’ve already come to a fair deal with one of the largest teacher unions to keep kids in class, and we urge ETFO  to come to the table and do the same. Parents and students deserve nothing less.”

ETFO is one of several major teaching unions in Ontario.

A strike involving secondary school teachers appears to have been avoided with the union agreeing to binding arbitration. Catholic teachers are holding votes on the potential for strike action on Wednesday and Thursday.

Speaking to reporters at Queen’s Park, Lecce highlighted the deal with secondary school teachers as evidence strikes could be avoided. “If we can get an agreement with one of the largest unions for English public high school teachers and 80 per cent of members vote in favour of it, why can’t we get that agreement with (ETFO)?” Lecce asked.

Parents experienced widespread disruption as recently as November 2022, when education workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees walked off the job amidst a tense battle with the Ford government.

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Tensions over new contracts for Ontario secondary and elementary school teachers increased as summer drew to a close.

In late August, ETFO announced it had asked the Ministry of Labour to appoint a conciliator to stick-handle the thorny negotiations, more than a year after the union’s contract had expired.

At the time the union said its “patience had run out” and negotiations were at a standstill.

Since then, a ministry-appointed conciliator joined the negotiations and is scheduled to meet with the bargaining teams on Oct. 20 and 27.

The conciliation process, however, is key to determining what happens next and whether students will experience more classroom disruption.

If the talks derail, the process would end with a “no-board” report — meaning the Ministry of Labour would not appoint a three-member conciliation panel to finalize the contract. That would effectively trigger a countdown to a strike.

Once the no-board notice has been released by the Ministry of Labour, the union would have to wait 17 full days before educators could legally walk off the job after giving notice of strike action.

The 17-day period allows school boards the chance to prepare for the strike and gives parents a window to plan out their childcare options.

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Still, negotiations could always continue through that period and a contract could still be reached before the strike deadline.

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