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Elementary teachers overwhelmingly support strike action

Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario president Sam Hammond announces the union’s 83,000 members voted 98 per cent in favour of strike action. The union and the province continue to meet with an appointed conciliator this week. (Photo courtesy of ETFO)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Elementary school teachers in Ontario have overwhelmingly voted in favour of strike action.

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), announced last week that 98 per cent of the union’s 83,000 members voted in favour of striking if a deal can’t be reached with the province. He said this is a “historic strike vote” for the largest teachers union in Canada.

“I just want to pause for a moment to thank our 83,000 members for that overwhelming strike vote,” Hammond said while addressing media in Toronto.

Hammond said it is too early to speculate when strike action could occur.

The two sides are scheduled to meet with a conciliator on Monday.

Hammond alleges the government is “refusing to address student learning opportunities and [teachers’] working conditions in any meaningful way.”

He claimed ETFO has been asked to support $150 million in cuts to public education, and that the government hasn’t provided any commitment to renewing a $50 million fund for hundreds of special education teachers put in place in 2017.

Other areas of contention for teachers include class sizes, especially in Grades 4 to 8.

Hammond says these grades have been “chronically underfunded for decades.”

“And nobody from the other table frankly seems to care,” the union leader said.

Hammond also wants action taken on what he calls an increasing number of violent incidents in elementary school classrooms.

“We’ve tried to work with school boards and the government to try and address this problem. They seem to want to ignore it,” he stated.

ETFO is also looking for a commitment from Minister of Education Stephen Lecce to continue Ontario’s all-day kindergarten model.

“It’s a model that was developed by experts, and it’s working. Studies have shown it is providing lasting benefits,” Hammond said.

He said the Ford government wants to cut costs, but all-day kindergarten is “too important of an investment.”

“This government wants to save money, quite frankly, at the expense of our youngest children,” he said.

Lecce has asked teachers to agree to a one per cent salary increase, but Hammond says discussions haven’t even broached that subject.

“I find it so problematic that the Minister of Education says the issue at the table… is salary. We haven’t even started talking about salary. I don’t know where he is getting his information from, I don’t know where he is getting his numbers from, it’s like he’s pulling his information from out of a hat,” Hammond said, adding there has been “no real discussion” on ETFO’s areas of concern.

During ETFO’s news conference, Lecce released a statement saying the union’s “escalating step” towards a strike will “disproportionately” hurt students.

“Strike action caused by unions could mean school closures, disruption, and uncertainty for students and parents,” Lecce said in the 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.”