Let us tell you about a friend of ours named Matt.
Matt is a local teacher who, before and after school, voluntarily coaches volleyball, soccer, and football. He doesn’t mind. In fact, he loves it!
Unfortunately for Matt, as of today, Ontario elementary teachers won’t be supervising any extra-curricular activities at schools. This means that school programs like musical activities, student council, and sports teams will be put on hold until further notice. This decision was made by Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) as an escalation to their negotiations with the province. The job action also means that teachers won’t be able to produce report cards for kids in Kindergarten to Grade 8.
“The Liberal government and OPSBA have ignored all attempts by ETFO to get them to return to the central bargaining table, including an offer to refer one issue to binding arbitration. If OPSBA and the government want a deal, why are they not responding to our efforts to resume bargaining? Why are they not back at the bargaining table with us?” said ETFO President Sam Hammond in a statement.
“Our members do not undertake this escalation of strike action lightly, but they understand that reaching a fair and reasonable agreement will not happen unless OPSBA and the government are present at the bargaining table.”
So, why are these teachers still on work-to-rule after roughly 14 months of negotiations?
For a lot of teachers, including Matt, the issues isn’t about wages. It’s about class sizes and control of their own programming. Under the current negotiations, the school board has the final say on classroom size and how schools deal with special-needs students. With budget cuts, special-needs students aren’t receiving the resources and the help they require, which makes it even more difficult for teachers to aide them in their studies. Classrooms right now consist of about 30 kids. To supervise and teach this many children at a time is challenging, and it makes it difficult for teachers to give students individual attention.
Meanwhile, Premier Kathleen Wynne has said she may order the school board to dock teacher’s pay starting in November in light of the job action escalation—which doesn’t make sense considering extracurricular supervision is voluntary. The message the Premier is sending teachers is that they should be paid less for not doing something they actually aren’t paid to do in the first place. I doubt this will go over well with the ETFO.
After saying this, it is a shame that children won’t be receiving report cards in November. They deserve to see their academic progress. But, the Ontario government needs to take teachers’ claims seriously and bring the ETFO back to the negotiations table. And they have to realize it isn’t all about the money, despite the fact it’s a message that the media and the government seems to be pushing. People like Matt just wants to be able to do his job to the fullest of his ability, and that includes smaller class sizes and more resources for his students.
So Ontario, think about this: If “Phase 3” of the job action is to cut extra-curricular activities, what’s next? Probably another strike. Let’s try to avoid that if possible.