Thousands of teachers and educators from four Ontario teacher unions gathered for a rally at Kitchener city hall on Friday, February 21st. The crowds made taking photographs challenging.
Leaders from unions as well as Ministers of Provincial Parliament of Waterloo and Kitchener Centre, Catherine Fife and Laura Mae Lindo, gave different speeches starting at noon. There were children, too, giving out cookies to the teachers.
One of the slogans for the teachers’ strikes is “cut hurts kids.” One of WCI’s union representatives, Mr. Fusco, explained, “ If you invest in education, you do not need to invest as much in social programs in life. It reduces welfare, it reduces unemployment, it reduces criminal activities. Let’s put the money in front so we do not have to pay for those things later.”
The February 21st strike was the first time since 1997 that the teachers from these four unions (the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO)) have gone on strike on the same day.
Fusco explained that the main reason for the strike was to put pressure on the government to achieve an agreement on a contract for this and following years. The current contract for Ontario’s education workers expired on August 31st, 2019.
The goal of the teachers’ strikes is to continue using the terms of the existing contract. Currently, teachers are fighting to maintain the status quo: maintain the number of students in the classroom, no mandatory eLearning courses, and a salary increase to match the inflation rate.
In the Waterloo Region, there has been one strike day about every five weeks for high school students as boards across the province are rotating strikes days. Fusco said that this is a way to put pressure on the government without taking too much time off the classroom.
OSSTF had begun labour action in public schools across Ontario on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. The job action focused on issues that are not aimed at local school boards but rather at the provincial government and the current central bargaining process. For instance, sports and extracurricular activities have not been cut. But some students may have noticed that the comment boxes on their report cards were blank.
According to Fusco, there are surveys occurring every week, where the public is asked about their attitudes towards the current situation between unions and the government. In the surveys, around 60% of those who answer support teachers, and that number has been fluctuating between 60 and 70. Roughly 20 to 30% support the government.
Currently, unions are at different stages in the bargaining process with the government.