Teachers’ strikes are successive. Parents are already used to (or should I say tired of…) dealing with the problem that results from this – children forced to stay home from school have to go somewhere else or stay at home, often forcing parents to miss work. On the other hand, companies, where the parents work, are forced to deal with absenteeism from employees who, although are not on strike, are still unable to work.
In fact, effective strikes always have a domino effect – reaching far more people and services than are directly linked to it, because if they don’t, no one cares about them.
In any case, what is motivating the teachers? What is behind this strike? Is the claim of education professionals fair when we consider how much this is affecting others? In this edition of Milénio Stadium we tried to understand what is really at stake by listening to both sides of this “barricade”. Unfortunately it was not possible to obtain a statement from the Government of Ontario, but we present the arguments from the teachers’ side through this interview with Cindy Lopes, a Luso-Canadian teacher from the Toronto District School Board.
In the end, what the teachers claim to be at stake, is the future—the future of many professionals who fear losing their jobs and generally, the future of education in Ontario.
Milénio Stadium: What are the reasons that have led to teachers’ strikes in Ontario?
Cindy Lopes: Teachers and education workers from various school boards in Ontario have been working without a contract since August 31st, 2019. Our unions have been trying to come to the table with this Conservative government to negotiate a fair deal that includes:
- special education funding
- classroom violence
- Full-Day Kindergarten maintained in its current form
- class sizes
- compensation that keeps up with inflation.
Unfortunately, the Conservative government is not interested in protecting our world class education system in Ontario. Instead, it has made cuts to public education and is focused on making more cuts, including $150 million in public elementary budgets. We are striking to protect the future of public education in this province.
MS: What future effects will the measures announced by the Doug Ford government have?
CL: We have already seen the effects of the cuts with our secondary counterparts. High school teachers in Ontario have lost their jobs, high school programs have been cut (with less programs being offered to students) and more visibly, the ballooning of class sizes in high schools. If issues of class size and special education funding are not negotiated in these rounds of bargaining, then we will see the erosion of our publicly funded system. This will mean larger class sizes in elementary school, less supports for students with special needs and no guarantee that our Kindergarten classes will have a qualified Teacher in every class. Once the government makes cuts to education and critical programs, they are very hard to reverse. Ontario is still recovering from the last round of cuts made to education by the Harris Conservative government.
MS: Do you think that teachers’ strikes will have the desired effect? Do you think the Ford government will go back?
CL: At this point, we want Lecce and the government to take their role in the bargaining process seriously. As of today, we have no scheduled bargaining dates. If they are serious about students and education, they need to get to the bargaining table, make real progress and offer an investment to education, NOT cuts!
We know that families and students feel the impact of our strike actions, such as cancelled field trips, no extra-curricular activities and full walkouts. I am a mom of a student in a TDSB school. When students are not at school, I must look for childcare for my child, also. However, these actions are a means to get the government to the bargaining table and have serious discussions about education.
MS: Don’t you fear that strikes will turn public opinion against teachers?
CL: I believe parents in Ontario see that we are fighting for public education. Parents and grandparents come to me everyday and tell me that they support what we are doing and ask how they can support us. They see the larger picture of a well-funded education system. Our community does too. I am Luso-Canadian. My parents immigrated to Canada so that I would have opportunities that they did not back home. Our community values education and sees that it is a means to a better future for our children. Parents want to maintain a high-quality education system, not decimate it with cuts.
MS: Do you think that there is still a chance of coming to an understanding between the government and the Union that represents Teachers?
CL: Currently, there are four unions representing teachers, support staff and education workers battling to reverse the cuts this government has made or is proposing to make to education. This is not a fight with only one group. High school teachers, public elementary teachers, French school boards, Catholic elementary and high school teachers, DECEs are all waiting for this Conservative government to set some bargaining dates and get to the table to engage in meaningful discussions. The Elementary Teachers of Ontario has not been at the table with the government since December 19th, 2019. We all want this resolved. We are working without a contract. There will only be a resolution when the government decides to bargain at the table and our Minister of Education stops negotiating in the media. Our union negotiating team is ready.