Following the Progressive Conservative Party’s winning a second consecutive majority government June 2, many of the major Ontario education unions want to start talking about a new contract with the government sooner rather than later.
Premier Doug Ford has not named a new Minister of Education or cabinet yet, but four unions have filed their notices of intent to start bargaining, wanting to hammer out a new contract as the current contract expires August 31.
“Workload is a significant concern for a lot of my members,” said Marie Morin-Strom, Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) Algoma District 2 teachers bargaining unit president, speaking to SooToday.
“We are a hybrid learning board and hybrid learning has been very difficult for my members. That’s certainly something that we would like to see addressed in negotiations.”
“We would like to see us go back to in person learning. We believe that in-person learning is best for students.”
“If students needed to learn online there are options like e-learning or virtual learning. It’s trying to manage a number of students in front of you and a number of students multi modally online. Trying to serve both masters is extremely difficult,” Morin-Strom said.
In early 2020, prior to COVID breaking out, Ontario teachers voiced their opposition to the Ford government’s plans for increased class sizes and a requirement for high school students to earn four credits online.
That was eventually whittled down to two credits.
Educators also wanted a guarantee of full-day kindergarten and more classroom safety.
Teachers and other educational workers also wanted a two per cent per year salary increase, whereas the government stood at one per cent.
Many of those same bones of contention are still there as the 2022-23 school year approaches.
“Inflation is a significant concern, the cost of living. My members are certainly concerned that the one per cent that we’ve been held to for a while now is difficult to manage life with when the cost of living is increasing significantly more than one per cent,” Morin-Strom said.
“The funding that has gone to school boards for next year is a maximum of one per cent increase for education workers. Even before we start negotiating it seems like the government has decided in advance that is what we’re getting.”
“Our major issue is the violence that’s happening in the workplace,” said Liz Tassone, OSSTF educational support staff president.
“We have a lot of needy kids coming in with a lot of issues. We’re dealing with a lot of support staff basically getting hit and beaten up on a daily basis. A lot of time we don’t have time to fill out violent incident reports so that these kids can get the help that they need.”
OSSTF educational support staff also include clerical workers, noon hour aides as well as some Information Technology (I.T.) employees.
“The violence is not because they want to be violent. It’s how they communicate. It’s how some of them function. They don’t have control over their violent behaviour. We are so short staffed, we are assigned to two or three kids, and they’re running around in different directions, so our main goal is to keep them safe at school from self harm and from harming others,” Tassone said.
“We do have programs that we follow. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.”
Violent students range in age all the way from Kindergarten to high school, Tassone said.
“We’re the ones that greet the kids first thing in the morning so if they've had a tough time at home the night before they come to us, who are sometimes the only secure people in their lives, and they take it out on us.”
Educators fear if class sizes increase under the government that violence in the schools is going to increase.
Tassone said wages are also a sore point for her colleagues.
“Most of the support staff make around $30,000 or less a year. That’s not a liveable wage. We only work six hours a day. People have the notion that we make what a teacher makes. We're not even close to that and we’re the front line workers.”
SooToday also received a response from the local Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) office.
“On June 3, OECTA gave notice to the Government of Ontario and the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association (OCSTA) that the Association is prepared to begin provincial-level bargaining for the renewal of our members collective agreement. Filing a notice to bargain is just the first step in what can be a long process. The next step will involve the parties setting dates to meet. With contracts set to expire on August 31, it is important that the bargaining process begin,” said Darrell Czop, Huron-Superior OECTA president in an email.
“As always, we are committed, throughout this process, to achieving a fair agreement that supports all students, educators, and families, recognizing that educators' working conditions are our students' learning conditions,” Czop said.