Ontario elementary teachers will be asked to vote on a strike mandate at mass meetings held across the province this month and next.
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), which represents 83,000 public elementary teachers, occasional teachers and educational professionals, will conduct a central strike vote as it discusses bargaining issues with members.
Teachers will be asked to show support for the union's bargaining priorities, including more support for students with special needs, smaller class sizes, protection of full-day kindergarten and "fair and transparent" hiring practices.
"ETFO's goal is to reach an agreement at the central bargaining table without having to take job action," the union said in a news release on Wednesday.
"It is committed to continuing negotiations at the bargaining table until a fair and reasonable collective agreement can be reached for public elementary educators in Ontario."
The vote will be held at information meetings at 76 locals in late September and October.
Contracts expired at end of August
Contracts for teachers and education workers at the province's publicly funded schools expired at the end of August.
ETFO and other major education unions have been critical of the government's overall direction since taking power last June, including recent moves to increase class sizes for Grade 4 and higher, mandate e-learning courses and reduce per-student funding to boards.
Education minister says he wants to prevent strike
On Monday, during an announcement in Kitchener, Ont., Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the provincial government is trying to prevent a strike and negotiations with education workers are underway.
Lecce said ministry staff are "working very hard around the clock in good faith with our union partners, our trustees partners, to land a deal at the end of the day."
He said the ministry sees workers and the unions that represent them as partners.
"Obviously, as you know, it does take two to tango, right. It requires that cooperation from all parties," he said. "But I can assure you from my capacity as the minister, I want predictability. I want children in the class."
Lecce added he thinks everyone wants to see "a deal that puts our students first."
CUPE education workers take steps towards job action
His comments come after the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents 55,000 education workers, including custodians, clerical staff and education assistants, announced last Thursday it will request a "no-board" notice.
That request starts a 17-day countdown to possible job action across Ontario for education workers at public, Catholic, French and English school boards.
CUPE expects the period to last until the week of September 23, at which point union members will be able to lawfully begin job action.
In a previous announcement, the union suggested that job action could take the form of work-to-rule, rotating strikes, or a full strike.
Green MPP says uncertainty creating labour unrest
Mike Schreiner, leader of Ontario's Green party and a Guelph MPP, said in a news release on Tuesday that "cuts hurt kids" and the education minister should commit to negotiating in good faith.
"Nobody wants to see an interruption to the school year — not teachers, education staff, unions, parents, students or even the Ford government. But the uncertainty surrounding class size increases and the erratic moves by the Ford government have put us in this situation," Schreiner said. "The shift to larger classes, online learning and fewer support staff has created massive anxiety for students and educators, not to mention the Premier's continued inappropriate remarks besmirching union leaders."
Schreiner added he respects the right of teachers to collective bargaining and job action to defend quality education, but would like to see all parties working together collaboratively.
Changes aimed at helping rein in deficit, province says
The government has said its recent changes to education policy are part of a broader effort to constrain public sector wage increases and rein in an $11.7-billion deficit.
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, which has 60,000 members, 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.