War of words as hundreds of teachers take to Peel streets

BY SURJIT SINGH FLORA

Our children need education. Not picketing. Not soapbox preaching. Not indoctrination. Could the quality of education be improved with more money? Roughly 200,000 teachers throughout the province raised signs, led marches and voiced their concerns last week, going on a joint strike led by four unions – the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association A group of teachers representing several elementary and secondary school unions picket near the intersection of Ray Lawson Boulevard and Hurontario Street in Brampton on Feb. 21, 2020. Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), and Association des Enseignantes et des Enseignants franco-Ontarians (AEFO). Approximately two million students were out of school, and more than 5,000 public schools were shutdown, as picket lines formed throughout major cities to protest education cuts on Feb. 21. As Premier Ford said last week, the province is spending $1.2 billion more on education — although that mostly comprises the province’s childcare rebate as well as an increase in its enrolment. “We believe that parents want us to increase investment in the schools and in our children, who go there,” Ford said Thursday. “What they do not — and I’ve heard it right across this province — believe in is increasing compensation. They’d rather have that money … put back into the classroom. These strikes are impacting families. Just imagine how many people have to find childcare or take a day from work. That’s unacceptable.” He added. Negotiations continued on Thursday between the government and OECTA, as well as AEFO. However, tentative agreements weren’t reached with either union as of Friday evening. Among the issues on which the two sides continue to disagree are class sizes, elearning, and compensation. When Peel Weekly News spoke to OSSTF spokesperson Emily Earle, who was rallying hundreds of teachers in the

Ray Lawson and Hurontario area of Brampton on Feb. 21, we asked the question – who is right: teachers’ unions or the government? On the issues, the Ford government is saying that teachers are asking for more money under the guise of ensuring their own financial security instead of the safety of students. But when it comes to the union, they say it’s not about the money, but the students. Increasing the class size makes a big difference, and it’s easy to tell the numbers from the numbers, said Earle. Still, dealing with that many students, in reality, is challenging. The issue of eLearning is a sticking point, continued Earle, because most of the students are not comfortable with the format, and it’s hard to get the proper education without the teacher being present on-site to guide the student. Education Minister Stephen Lecce said parents are losing patience with the disruption in their lives. In a statement last week, Lecce called on the teachers’ union leaders to accept private mediation to end what he calls “needless escalation” of job action. “Your child should be in class; they should not be the casualty of unionled escalation. The focus of union leaders ought to be on negotiating a deal that keeps students in the class,” Lecce said in a statement last week. “Our government will remain squarely focused on providing stability to students who face escalation by teachers’ unions far too often throughout their educational journey. We have demonstrated this focus on students during the negotiation process, by advancing educational priorities that matter: merit-based hiring, enhanced investments in student priorities and special education over union demands for more generous wages and benefits and committed – in writing – to protecting all-day kindergarten.

Parents are losing patience with the unioncaused disruption in their lives, the inconsistency in their children’s education, and the financial impact of scrambling for alternate care. That is why we will continue to stand with parents and offer financial assistance through the Support for Parents initiative, which is providing financial support directly in the pockets of working parents,” Lecce said. “While union leaders are continuing to organize further disruption, our government remains focused on getting deals that ensure students are learning each and every day.” Education workers in the province are united around the belief that investments in public education are investments in our future, said OECTA President Patrick Etmanski on Friday. “At the bargaining table, this government is demanding that our members accept larger class sizes, mandatory e-learning courses, and cuts to supports for our most vulnerable students. This is unacceptable.” We asked Earle about how teachers compare to standard labour workers, who make an average $15,000 to $40,000 a year and also deal with long hours and heavy workloads. Currently, teachers make anywhere from $80,000 to $95,000 per year, while standard labourers have to deal with lower hourly wages and (in many cases) living and financial concerns. If the money the government is spending could be used to support the homeless and needy, along with increased funding to hospitals, that would be an apt comparison, said Earle. Still, to teach at the elementary and secondary level in Ontario, they need to complete at least three-seven years of full-time study at university or college, leading to a postsecondary degree (a BSc, for example), she said. “And it’s the value of its job,” she summarized. Ford’s government announced last spring it would increase average high school class sizes from 22 to 28 and require students to take four e-learning courses to graduate. Lecce has since offered to instead increase average high school class sizes to 25 and require two online learning courses, but the unions have been pressing for no class size increases and for no mandatory e-learning courses. While teachers have excellent pay, and full benefits, even being paid when sick, they also appear to be willing to hold kids hostage by cutting extra activities, like field trips and sports activities and risk hindering students’ education for increased financial security. “They should be all shamed and fired,” said local resident Rupinder Kaur, whose two kids are at home. She told Peel Weekly News that she had to take the day off, and lose pay, because she works through an agency and has no benefits.

About the author

Asia Metro Editor

Surjit Singh Flora
editor@asiametro.ca

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