One-day strike to involve four unions
At press time, the province’s four major education unions were set to partake in joint, one-day strike on Friday, Feb. 21, making it the first time in more than 20 years that such a situation has arisen.
Contract talks between the unions and the Ford government began during the summer, and have broken off and resumed at different points since then. There have been ongoing, rotating, one-day strikes by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario for the past month, and more recently, some of those strike days have included all 83,000 ETFO members throughout the province.
Along with ETFO members, members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens are set to hit picket lines on Friday, meaning some 200,000 teachers and education workers will be off the job, affecting 5,000 schools in 72 school boards. It will be the first time that all four of Ontario’s major education unions have struck simultaneously since stalled negotiations with the government of former Premier Mike Harris in 1997.
“Educators in every school board will not stay silent as the Ford government proceeds to decimate our publicly funded education system,” ETFO president Sam Hammond said in a press release. “Our unions and members helped build Ontario’s world-class education system. By not seriously addressing the issues critical to students and student learning, the Ford government has made a sham of contract talks over the last seven months.”
Priorities for ETFO include maintaining the current kindergarten program, smaller class sizes, resources for students with special needs, as well as teacher compensation. Along with continuing strike action, elementary school students are not receiving report cards, and field trips and extracurricular activities have been cancelled.
Special education and supports for students with mental health issues have also been a priority for the Catholic teachers’ union.
“We are already seeing the effects of this government’s reckless education cuts,” OECTA president Liz Stuart said in a release. “The Ford government is reducing supports for students with special education needs and mental health issues. It is squeezing students into overcrowded classes and forcing high school students to take e-learning courses. If we allow the government to implement its plan fully, thousands of teaching positions and tens of thousands of course options will be lost.”
On Tuesday, it was announced that a mediator was calling the government and parties involved in negotiations for the Catholic teachers’ union back to the table
“Students belong in class,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a press release. “My objective has always been to reach deals with our education labour partners – deals that are fair to students, hard-working parents, and our valued teachers and education workers. I am pleased the mediator has called all parties back to the negotiating table, as we have always said, we stand ready to negotiate to reach a deal that keeps students in class. The government has demonstrated our commitment to reaching a deal by affirming our commitment to maintaining all-day kindergarten, investing in special education needs, and keeping classroom sizes low.”