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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Four major teaching unions join together for province-wide strike

by Sylene Argent

On Friday, hundreds of local teachers and educational assistants, from the four major education unions, gathered at Chatham-Kent-Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls’s office to show solidarity when it comes to protecting public education.

Friday’s province-wide, one-day walkout was the first time since 1997 all four major teaching unions joined forces to strike, it was said at the event. The unions represented high school and elementary teachers and educational assistants through the ETFO, OSSTF, AEFO, and OECTA.

The one-day walkout affected nearly 6,100 local educators and education workers.

  Andy Adzic, an OSSTF member with the Teachers’ Bargaining Unit, emceed the event at Nicholls’s office, where representative of all four unions spoke.

  Members of all four major unions, he said, were standing side-by-side to send a message to Nicholls and his Conservative Party, and all political parties, that they were standing up for all students across the province.

  He said the significance of the unions showing solidarity together is that youths are no different because they go to a different school, and education workers are no different because of the school board they work for.

  In 1997, Adzic said he was a high school student. He thanked the teachers and educational workers who stood up for education then. “What you did back then was historic. And, so that is why it is our turn to stand up right now to make sure we don’t give up on all the things you gained for us back then.”

Local ETFO President, Adelina Cecchin, said last Friday’s walkout was historic because teachers and education workers want to show, “We are on the right side of this…we know we are on the right side, not only because we are defending teachers’ working conditions and students’ learning conditions, but we have the public and parents on our side, two-to-one,” she claimed.

She said the unions would continue to stand up against the proposed cuts the government wants to implement, which has been mentioned in the past to include larger class sizes and the introduction of e-learning.

  Local AEFO President, Mike Hinch, added that he was happy to stand with the other education unions. He was a teacher in 1997, and remembers that strike fondly as that is what got him involved with the union.

  Don Garant, of the OECTA, said when a government is fighting with all four unions, he said he does not think the unions are the ones at fault. Regulation 274, which has to do with hiring practices, has been an subject of discussion through the recent strikes. He said the Regulation is important for members as the job comes from the work one does. He said this regulation should not be cut.

  “You don’t get a world class education system by making cuts,” he said. “You do it by investing in it.”

  Local OSSTF, President Erin Roy, said she couldn’t be prouder the four unions came together. “This is more than just the two million students [who] are out [of school] today, this more than the 200,000 educational workers and teacher [who] are out today, this is about a systemic attack on our societal values. We all need to come together,” she said, adding as one takes a look at the laws the current provincial government is passing, it is an attack on freedoms. “We are going backwards for the most valuable people in society.”

  She said, as education workers, the cuts the provincial government wants to impose will affect the most vulnerable students the most. “Those are the ones who fall through the cracks.”

In addition to picketing at MPP Nicholls’s office, teachers also picketed at area schools to continue to spread the message as to why they were holding the strike on Friday.

  The day prior to the province-wide strike, Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, issued a statement. It was posted on Ontario Newsroom. In the statement, he said, “Your child should be in class; they should not be the casualty of union-led escalation. The focus of union leaders ought to be on negotiating a deal that keeps students in class.

  “Our government will remain squarely focused on providing stability to students who face escalation by teacher unions far too often throughout their educational journey. We have demonstrated this focus on students during the negotiation process, by advancing educational priorities that matter: merit-based hiring, enhanced investments in student priorities and special education over union demands for more generous wages and benefits and committed - in writing - to protecting all-day kindergarten.”

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