Rotating Ontario teacher strikes puts stress on faculty, students

by | Jan 24, 2020 | Campus News, Canadian News, News

Kristen Cussen, News Reporter

Four elementary and secondary teachers unions in Ontario are picketing in rotating strikes in response to larger classes, job security, online courses and the legislated one per cent wage cap.

While post-secondary students are safe from a repeat of the five-week long province-wide faculty strike in 2017, the effects of secondary and elementary strikes are rippling into the lives of Humber faculty and students with children.

“It causes a disruption,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas, the head of the union representing college faculty and support staff.

The ability to attend and complete course work will become a challenge for students affected by the work stoppages. The rotating strikes also interfere with teachers’ ability to deliver quality education while finding accommodations for their children.

Bill 124 has been a catalyst for teachers facing a slew of changes due to Progressive Conservative budget cuts.

“The principle of the argument is that it’s an interference with free collective bargaining,” said Thomas, who calls the legislation “unnecessary.”

Bill 124 will cap the wage increases of public sector workers at one per cent a year once existing collective agreements expire.

The cap doesn’t match the annual rise of inflation, but most importantly, it neglects the charter rights of those in the union, the union argues.

Another portion of the argument lies in class sizing and e-learning.

Thomas said the integration of online courses is an effort to eliminate teaching positions rather than enhance the learning experience for students.

“With the government, it’s always about money,” he said.

“For the first time in history, one generation has left the next generation and the generation after that worse off, and we should be ashamed of ourselves.”

Post-secondary students may not be directly involved right now, but graduates entering the public sector will be the next generation to feel the effects of the one per cent wage cap.

“It’s your future. You have to grab hold of it,” Thomas said. “Young people should be putting the heat on the older generation to do the right thing and make life better with full-time work.”

He said the gig economy and contract work hurts job security. “The smartest thing I ever heard a young person say is ‘I don’t care about free Wi-Fi, how about you give me a full-time job.’”

The current collective agreement for college faculty expires next year. Thomas suspects “the employer will take up Doug Ford’s gauntlet saying ‘no more than one per cent’” when negotiations begin between the union and the College Employer Council in the near future.