The 2019-2020 school year was one for the history books. We started the year bargaining with a Conservative government determined to make massive cuts to public education and ended with a global pandemic and our members having to adjust to emergency distance learning over the course of just a couple of weeks.
Standing Up to Ford: Our Solidarity is More Important Than Ever
When the Conservative government tabled its fall economic update, which indicated a $7.4 billion deficit for 2018-19, roughly half the amount the government was using to justify their agenda of cuts and chaos, they had an opportunity to correct course and start prioritizing the needs of Ontarians. The response to Ford’s austerity agenda has been almost universally negative, with Ford’s popularity falling further and quicker than even his harshest critics predicted. This fall, Ford had a 23 percent approval rating. The truth is that Ontarians value good public services, we value public education that gives every Ontario student the education they deserve regardless of where they live in the province. Our public services are the backbone of our society and our public education system ensures that every student can grow up to be a leader.
This government may not care about the long-term consequences of their cuts to public education, but educators are very aware that what we are fighting for today will have an impact on generations of students to come. We take this responsibility very seriously.
At the bargaining table we have been asking the government to commit to keeping the current model for Kindergarten with a fulltime certified teacher and designated early childhood educator. This model is leading the world and the Ford government is putting it at risk. ETFO is fighting to protect it. We are also fighting for smaller classes, which we know lead to more focussed learning and better outcomes. We are fighting for supports for students with special needs instead of a $235 million cut in funding for special needs supports and at-risk kids. We’re pressing for more special education teachers and educational assistants to support students. We are also asking the government to take real and concrete steps to address violence in the classroom by increasing funding and support for students.
The Ford Conservative government has approached collective bargaining in the same way they approached cuts to public education and other public services; without an understanding of the processes or the impacts, and with a disregard for what educators, parents and other community members have clearly said they want. They have also pushed through Bill 124 – which represents an unconstitutional attack on the right of public sector workers to free collective bargaining by unilaterally imposing limits on compensation increases. Make no mistake that we will stand up for our members without apology and challenge this legislation. We are also challenging an earlier unilateral increase to class size in grades 4-8 at the Ontario Labour Relations Board. This is an item currently at the central bargaining table.
While Doug Ford’s Minister of Education Stephen Lecce has repeatedly gone on the news to talk about how his government has been bargaining in good faith, the reality at the table tells a different story – one where the government is intentionally stalling and trying to create chaos. Our work-to-rule job action is intended to put pressure on the employer and the government, and we are still hopeful that with conciliation we will be able to reach an agreement that makes sense for Ontario educators and our students. We have done a great job as an organization communicating our demands to parents and community members and we have seen support like never before. Parents and others are standing with educators to ensure that we have the public education system our students deserve. We will fight for safe and healthy classrooms for our students and members.
As we continue our work-to-rule across the province, our solidarity will be more important than ever. Make sure that you are subscribed to the ETFO CB e-newsletter and check the CB website regularly (etfocb.ca). Register and follow our public campaign on BuildingBetterSchools.ca. Building Better Schools also has a number of resources that you can use to share information in your community. Help us advocate for schools and students. Take the opportunity to tell your MPP what is happening in your school and what you want them to do about it. It is their job to represent you, their constituent.
As we break for the winter holidays, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you for your solidarity, your hard work in the classroom every day and for your commitment to your students and your colleagues. Together we are a force to be reckoned with and we will use our collective power to make sure Ontario’s education system continues to be one of the best in the world.
– Sam Hammond
With bargaining, public campaigns, government submissions, programs and all of the other work that ETFO does in service to our members, the fall has been an extremely busy time.