As Ontario's Progressive Conservative party was preparing for its two-day policy conference at the Scotiabank Convention Centre Friday, hundreds of teachers and education workers filled the streets outside the centre to strike against government cuts to education.
In a rare occurrence, members of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association walked off the job on the same day to send message to the Ford government.
The Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens held a separate strike at Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School Friday.
The strike was the latest job action held by Ontario's four major education unions.
Mark Carter, president of the ETFO Niagara Occasional Teachers’ Local, said one of the primary reasons teachers were striking is to advocate for a “proper support" for special education. Another issue he mentioned was violence in classrooms.
“There is no disciplinary support, there are not enough resources in school,” he said.
Another big issue for the occasional teachers was fair hiring practices, Carter added referring to the Regulation 274 Education Act.
The regulation, implemented in 2012, allowed to hire occasional teachers for long-term and permanent jobs based on their levels of qualifications and experience while preventing nepotism, Carter said.
According to the final report on the regulation, many school boards and unions opposed the regulation. The report mentions such concerns as “loss of autonomy” when it comes to determining boards’ own hiring practices and “lack of mobility” for permanent teachers if they decided to move from one board to another.
“(It) provides absolute seniority-based hiring when merit is not even a consideration,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said at the legislature on Feb. 20.
In a statement issued Feb. 21, Lecce said the provincial government keeps focusing on providing “stability” to students who are kept out of class.
“We have demonstrated this focus on students during the negotiation process, by advancing educational priorities that matter: merit-based hiring, enhanced investments in student priorities and special education over union demands for more generous wages and benefits and committed – in writing – to protecting all-day kindergarten,” Lecce said.
“(I’m) frustrated the government isn’t actually bargaining,” Carter told The Lake Report. “There seems to be a lack of good faith in the bargaining process."
"We aren’t the ones keeping the kids out of the classroom. They are because they’re not giving us a deal. We wouldn’t be out here if they were talking to us at bargaining in good faith.”
Strike pays are different in each union.
The public elementary school teachers receive $75 a day from their union. The secondary school teachers under the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation receive $55 a day.
The Catholic teachers' union hasn't disclosed its pay strike.
As teachers are paid to work 194 days per year, teachers lose about 0.5 per cent of their pay every day or one per cent every two days they're out picketing, Jada Nicklefork, president of the elementary union chapter in Niagara, said in an interview to The Lake Report on Feb. 6.
“Opposed to people thinking we get paid for summer or Christmas, any time we have a break, we don’t get paid for those breaks,” she said in an interview. “So when we’re missing work like this right now, it’s significant because we’re missing a big chunk of our pay.”
Niagara Falls city councillor Carolynn Ioannoni attended the strike last Thursday saying she always comes to teachers’ strikes to show her support.
“You’ve got (teachers) fighting now for better education, for better support and better resources,” she told The Lake Report. “There’s really no question here. It’s not about money, it’s about proper resources to teach our kids.”
Demonstrations continued the next day Saturday as labour unions across the province held a huge rally outside the centre.
On Monday, Feb. 24, the elementary teachers' union announced it won't hold any strikes over the next two weeks and warned if a deal isn't reached by March 6, the union will escalate job action.
The Catholic teachers union also cancelled its one-day strike this week as the union returned to the bargaining table on Monday.
The Ontario secondary school union will stage a walkout at certain boards this Friday but Niagara schools will not be affected.