Barring an agreement after this issue went to press, teachers at public elementary schools will begin work-to-rule strike action on Tuesday. They could soon be followed by Catholic teachers and high school teachers.
It’s a situation that’s become all too familiar – and frustrating – for many parents who struggle to comprehend how those who have it so good can cry foul so often. Every five years or so, regardless of which party is in power, Ontarians seem to find themselves in the same situation, with teachers’ job action threatening students’ education.
In the past, we have used this space to criticize what many see as selfish demands on behalf of teachers’ unions. To be fair, we have also pinned some blame on the other side, noting that for nearly a decade successive Liberal governments rolled over for teachers’ unions, basically giving them whatever they wanted, with no eye for financial consequences. That led directly to a nasty showdown in 2012 when the Liberals tried to change course.
But this time around, something feels different. While dreading the thought of any disruptions to my children’s education, it’s hard not to sympathize with educators, at least a little, in this latest dispute.
Elementary teachers, many of them still rightfully seething from the 2012 fiasco, notably the retroactive removal of banked sick days, are now forced to deal with a provincial government that has bungled almost every major policy change it has announced since taking power last summer.
Who else but Doug Ford’s PC government could find a way to mess with sure money makers like the LCBO and Beer Store and also to lose over $40 million selling cannabis? And then there’s more important issues like changes to autism services, rolling back the sex-ed curriculum and flirting with various schemes on class sizes.
Indeed, along with Bill 124, which caps public sector wage increases at an annual average of one per cent for the next three years, class size seems to be a major sticking point for teacher unions. Other concerns include supports for special needs students and violence in schools.
Some might argue a few of these issues are self-serving (the violence issue, for one, is not – it’s a serious problem), but we’re willing to give teachers the benefit of the doubt this time around … for now.
It appears the first round of the ETFO’s work-to-rule job action focuses more on administrative duties. Things can change if that action escalates and has a greater impact on students, who, as usual, become pawns in these totally preventable labour disputes.
We hope both sides can cut out the hyperbole, threats, selfishness and childish jabs and immediately get down to realistic negotiations on legitimate issues.
Our kids deserve nothing less.