Today, members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) walk off the job to protest ongoing attacks to the education system by Doug Ford’s government. Key issues for the teachers’ job action include preserving jobs, lowering class sizes and rejecting mandatory e-learning courses for students.
The one-day province-wide walk-out will close secondary schools across the province. Though this is only a one-day strike, further job action is still “on the table” if an agreement is not reached with the province.
According to the OSSTF, this strike has been a long time coming.
“The job action we began earlier this week–the information pickets and the limited withdrawal of administrative services–was designed to draw attention to our issues while minimizing disruption to student learning,” said OSSTF President Harvey Bischof in a statement.
“This one-day, full withdrawal of services will cause a short-term disruption for our students, but if we allow this government to continue down the path it is on, students will suffer the negative impacts for years to come.”
Education Minister Stephen Lecce claimed that compensation is a key sticking point in negotiations, but the OSSTF says teachers are more broadly concerned about cuts that impact the quality of the public education system, not just wages.
As with ongoing negotiations with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), as well as the previous with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) who represent education workers, unions are fighting for workers and they’re fighting for our education system.
Teachers demands respond to Ford’s attacks on education
Addressing class sizes has been a huge part of bargaining. Former Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced an increase to class sizes in March. At that point, unions expressed concern about how such an increase would impact students’ learning experience as well as job security for teachers. Newly appointed Minister Stephen Lecce backtracked on this in August. Then in October, he announced that average class sizes would be lowered from 28 to 25 ( the current average is 22).
Nearly every stakeholder in this situation – apart from the province – is against larger class sizes. Earlier this year, the Ford government concluded a six month consultation on the topic. The results of that consultation went public only this week, indicating Ontario parents are also opposed to larger class sizes. In April, high school students themselves walked out in protest of Ford’s cuts to education, including increasing class sizes.
Another proposal from the Ford government back in March that has become a bargaining issue is the subject of e-learning. Initially proposing four mandatory e-learning courses for secondary school students, then moving to two.
Cuts to teacher jobs, larger class sizes, e-learning courses – these issues are all different facets of the same problem: an attack on public education. All of these changes negatively impact the student learning experience and all of them put into question the job security of Ontario teachers.
In a video addressing OSSTF members, President Bischof said they “are prepared to defend the publicly funded education system that we have built together, against a government that is determined to do nothing but tear it down.”
OSSTF receives powerful strike mandate over 90%
Along with the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), OSSTF has been in a legal strike position since November, having been in bargaining since before the school year began. Their contract expired on August 31st.
Strike votes were taken throughout November, with results overwhelmingly in favour of a strike announced in November. OSSTF teachers voted 95.5% for a strike, and OSSTF education workers 92% in favour of a strike.
Last Tuesday, they began an information picket and partial withdrawal of education services, with the walk-out announced two days later. That brings us to today, (and the cursory reminder that workers are not paid while on strike and only take up job action because they feel they have to).
When CUPE finally reached a tentative agreement last month, it was the night before they were set to strike, following a one week work-to-rule. Broadly presumed to be setting a precedent for the rest of the union agreements being negotiated now, their eleventh hour victory only underscores the message that job action – particularly a withdrawal of labour – seems to be the only thing getting the province’s attention.