Collingwood teachers and support staff have formed a picket around Collingwood Collegiate Institute (CCI) today, joining secondary school teachers across the province in a one-day strike.
Chris Young, Collingwood’s branch president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF), said the mood on the local line is “surprisingly positive.”
“Today, there’s lots of positivity, and the public has been incredibly supportive,” said Young.
There have been impromptu deliveries of food and hot beverages, and the Collingwood Evangelical Missionary Church has lent its space to the teachers, education assistants, early childhood educators, and clerical staff for break space during the strike.
“For us, that’s huge to have that sort of positive support,” said Young.
But not everybody has been positive.
“We’ve had some conversations with the public who have thought this is just about money,” said Young. “We’re trying out best to be educators all around, not just for our students, but for the public to let them know there’s more we’re out here fighting for today than just wages.”
He said teachers and support staff want to see the provincial-government “imposed” increases to class sizes and mandatory e-learning taken off the table.
“At the bare minimum, that is what we are looking for,” said Young.
According to the CCI teacher, increased class sizes not only mean thousands of job losses across the province, but poorer quality of education, and fewer class options for students.
E-learning, said Young, hasn’t been tested, and raises questions about who will teach the courses and what students without access to computers and high-speed Internet will do to obtain the mandatory online credits.
“At bare minimum we’re asking the government to pull that off the table and to explore it … in partnership with us, to create a committee and explore the options,” said Young.
He’d also like to see funding restored to local priorities, which provided specialized programs for “needful students” to ensure equitable access to quality education.
Finally, he said the OSSTF is asking for cost of living increases. Young said teachers' wages have been frozen for the last two contracts; he said it is not “unreasonable” to ask for a cost of living increase going forward.
“Our members work hard,” he said, adding teachers also volunteer for extra-curricular activities for clubs and coaching sports teams.
The members of the OSSTF have walked out of school today on a one-day strike after negotiations between the union and the provincial government did not produce a new contract.
Harvey Bischof, president of the federation, said the Ford government did not put forward any constructive proposals through the negotiation process.
Canadian Press reported Education Minister Stephen Lecce asked the union to remain at the bargaining table. Lecce said his team had presented new “framework” to the union in a bid to keep all parties at the table. The details of that framework were not made clear at the time.
“We are here because we obviously care a great deal about our students and the quality of education they receive, and we know the cuts will hurt that quality,” said Young. “I really believe if the cuts to our education system persist our education system will be unrecognizable five years from now.”
Ontario's public high school teachers have been without a contract since August. They have been conducting a work-to-rule campaign in an effort to push back against the government’s plans to increase class sizes and introduce mandatory e-learning credits.
The union announced last week that teachers could walk off the job.
Catholic high school teachers are not part of OSSTF and are not currently on strike. However, the OSSTF represents educational assistants, designated early childhood educators, office and clerical and maintenance staff for the Simcoe-Muskoka Catholic District School Board, and those members are striking with Collingwood teachers. Catholic high schools and elementary schools are closed today while support staff strike.
Whether or not there will be further strike action is unknown.
“You’ll have to ask the minister [of education]. Right now, the ball is in his court,” said Young. “We have no idea what to expect, and I’m not going to speculate on what might happen beyond this point.”
CCI, Jean Vanier Catholic High School, and local Catholic elementary schools will be open for class Thursday, and teachers will return to the classroom.