Canada 'We're all in it for the kids': Education unions lead thousands in job action at Queen's Park
Entire Ontario public school system to be shut down Feb. 21 due to teachers strike
Ontario's four largest education unions are planning to strike on Feb. 21, resulting in a complete shutdown of the province's public education system, Global News has learned. The news comes as the leadership of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF), Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) and Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) attended an event on Wednesday in Toronto at which Education Minister Stephen Lecce was speaking.
Thousands of striking teachers and education workers rallied at the Ontario Legislature on Friday in a demonstration they say is intended to send a message to Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce.
"We're all in it for the kids," head of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association Liz Stuart told CBC News.
"I am really hoping that the government really understands that this is about all of our members. We have 30,000 of them here today."
Wiz Khalifa Surprises L.A. Middle School Students With Musical Instrument Donation
Rapper Wiz Khalifa surprised a group of students at Los Angeles’ Eliot Arts Magnet Academy on Feb. 13 with a donation of musical instruments. Little Kids Rock’s mission is to bring inclusive and culturally relevant music education programs to schools across Pasadena and L.A. “Learning from award-winning recording artists like Wiz means the world to our students and inspires them to keep working towards fulfilling their dreams,” said Eliot Arts Magnet Academy principal Lori Touloumian. “We are incredibly grateful to Little Kids Rock for bringing these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to our students and encouraging their endeavors in music education.
Earlier Friday morning, Stuart was joined at a news conference by Harvey Bischof of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF), president of the Association of Franco-Ontarian Teachers (AEFO) Rémi Sabourin, and Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO).
"Here's my challenge, Doug Ford, Stephen Lecce: come out of this building today and talk to the 30,000 people," Hammond said at the news conference outside Queen's Park.
"If you think the four of us are orchestrating what's happening here today, come and talk to them and they will tell you exactly what's happening."
2 million students left out of class
Today's mass protest at the legislature coincides with a province-wide strike that has left about two million students out of class.
Ontario PC Party VP calls upcoming policy convention a ‘glorified pep rally’
The letter comes at a time when Premier Doug Ford and the Ontario PC Party are trying to convey an image of unity in the face of a growing backlash to government policy. During the first question period of the year on Tuesday, Ford and his cabinet faced pointed questions about public education, the Ontario Autism Program, new licence plates that many are raising concerns about, along with a number of other hot-button issues.On Friday, the start of the convention in Niagara Falls will coincide with a provincewide strike that will be held by all four of Ontario's major education unions.
Stuart said the rally shows that education workers are largely united in their job action.
"I am really hoping that the government really understands that this is about all of our members," she told CBC News.
Bischof said Friday's action demonstrates unity and should force the government back to the bargaining table.
"We understand what's at stake, and it's not about today, it's not about tomorrow — it's about the future and making sure that this Ford government understands exactly what the consequences of their actions will be if they don't stop on this path," Bischof said.
"When you have a government that plays politics with publicly funded education … then you need to show unity, and that's what we're doing — the four education unions in a historic action, unified in defence of public education."
Entire Ontario public school system closed, millions out of class Friday as teachers strike
In Toronto, educators are planning a massive protest at Queen's Park, which the unions say may draw as many as 30,000 people. READ MORE: Ontario teachers plan huge protest at Queen’s Park for joint provincewide strike Security at the legislature is bracing for a huge crowd, with road closures planned around the building. In Peel Region, the four unions are planning a mass 30-kilometre picket from Caledon to the lakeshore in Mississauga. Education Minister Stephen Lecce criticized the planned walkout and said the unions should ensure students remain in class.
Watch Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce respond to union leaders:
Bischof accuses government of playing games
OECTA and the French public teachers' union are actively bargaining with the province and both met with provincial negotiators on Thursday. But the ETFO last met with the province on Jan. 31, and the OSSTF has not been at the table with the province since mid-December.
The OSSTF leader said this has left him with the belief that the government is playing games with the unions.
"Apparently the education minister has sent signals to the other unions that he's prepared to make some moves that would be productive. We haven't met since Dec. 16 and I wonder what kind of game he's playing that he hasn't sent the same signal to our mediator," Bischof told CBC News.
"Why do the students that OSSTF members serve not deserve the same effort from the minister that the students who are served by the other union members get?"
Sabourin called the job action historic.
"Four of our unions here together protecting students' success, protecting students' learning ... the success of everyone is paramount," he said.
We're part of rotating strikes too, say support staff
Richard Brown, chief custodian at Cairine Wilson Secondary School in Orléans, says school support staff are often overshadowed by their teacher colleagues when it comes to conversations about the strikes. Education workers and support staff, in fact, make up more than a quarter of the people holding signs for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF)."I have a lot of colleagues that [only] make $14 an hour," Brown told Ottawa Morning Friday.The teachers' unions are asking for approximately two per cent in annual salary increases.
'It's difficult on the kids,' parent says
Neha Hans, while dropping off her son at a day camp in Mississauga, said she hopes the unions and the government come to a resolution soon.
"It's been ... bad because we just have to find day camps every single time to get to, and it's difficult on the kids," she told CBC News.
"One day it's school, the other day it's not. Getting them settled back in school is very, very difficult."
This is the first time since 1997 that teachers and education workers from Ontario's main education unions will all be out of their classrooms on the same day, the unions say.
Lecce called Friday's job action "deeply concerning," particularly when considering the impact on parents and children.
"I think the mission of the government, given the parents of this province have been very clear that they don't want their children's education to be compromised and they don't want their lives to be upended, is that all parties have an obligation to stay at the table and get a deal," Lecce told Metro Morning.
Lecce said he wants union leaders to heed the concerns of parents who want their children in school.
"We want to get a deal. Obviously this cannot go on forever and I think the people of this province have been clear that this is having real impacts on their lives. We do not lose sight of that," he said.
School strikes this week: Schools at three of Ottawa's four boards close Friday unless deal is reached
Ottawa’s English public and French-language schools will face another one-day strike this week unless there is a breakthrough in contract bargaining. However, there are also hopeful signs as two of Ontario’s four education unions now engaged in contract disputes have bargaining dates scheduled this week. However, there are also hopeful signs as two of Ontario’s four education unions now engaged in contract disputes have bargaining dates scheduled this week.
Members of the four unions in Peel Region also plan to hold a mass picket, with teachers set to form a 30-kilometre line from Caledon down to the lakeshore in Mississauga.
Lecce has been signalling flexibility on class sizes — one of the most contentious issues in ongoing negotiations, particularly for secondary teachers. He has said he would rather make further moves on class sizes than on compensation for teachers.
Ford's government announced last spring it would increase average high school class sizes from 22 to 28 and require students to take four e-learning courses to graduate.
Lecce has since offered to instead increase average high school class sizes to 25 and require two online learning courses, but the unions have been pressing for no class size increases and for no mandatory e-learning courses.
All the teachers' unions are asking for around two per cent in annual salary increases, while the government won't budge beyond offering one per cent. It passed legislation last year capping wage hikes for all public sector workers at one per cent for three years.
The teachers' unions and several others are fighting the law in court, arguing it infringes on collective bargaining rights.
School strikes next week: English Catholic teachers, French-language board plan walkouts .
English Catholic teachers plan a one-day strike Thursday, March 5 that would close schools at the Ottawa Catholic School Board. Students at all French-language schools can also expect to have a strike day next week, although which day has not been announced yet. Unless there is a breakthrough in bargaining, three of the four Ontario education unions in contract disputes will continue rotating strikes next week at various schools across the province. The union representing English public elementary teachers has taken a break from strikes to concentrate on applying political pressure to the provincial government.
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