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OSSTF Provincial President visits EDHS during province-wide walkout

- Calls e-learning discriminatory -


by Sylene Argent

On Thursday, February 13, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) Provincial President, Harvey Bischof, toured the Windsor-Essex County Region as the local District 9 chapter took part in the province-wide, one-day strike.

  OSSTF is holding the strikes to raise awareness regarding a number of concerns, including the province’s want to increase class sizes and introduce mandatory online classes. In addition, the province has offered a one-percent max increase per year. The union was looking to have that increased to around two-percent to keep in line with the cost of living increases.

  Bischof visited the Employment Assessment Centre in Windsor and Essex District High School to speak to picketers, while they stood in solidarity, through snowy weather conditions, sending a simple message to the provincial government, cuts hurt kids.

  Additional OSSTF District 9 picket locations included at Kennedy Collegiate Institution and Westview Freedom Academy in Windsor, along with General Amherst High School and Kingsville District High School in the County.

  In Essex, Bischof spoke to the OSSTF high school teachers and educational assistants, who work at both the primary and secondary levels.

  As Bischof stood on the bed of a pickup truck in front of Essex District High School to address the educators, several passing car horns were honked in support of education.

  One of the big reasons Bischof wanted to visit the Windsor area is because almost the whole spectrum of education workers in the system are represented.

  “I am absolutely sick to death of an Education Minister [Stephen Lecce], who deliberately ignores the work of our education workers because he does not understand what they do, he does not know who you are,” Bischof said. “Anybody who works in education, knows that our schools don’t work without our education workers in them, and they know that out students do not succeed without the support the education workers bring.

 

“I am absolutely sick to death of a Minister of Education, who votes for a 20percent increase for his housing allowance, but thinks our education workers, who average about $38,000 a year, don’t deserve to keep up with inflation,” he added.

  He claimed Lecce has never educated or raised a child, and “Doesn’t know the first thing about collective bargaining or education, and he thinks he is going to tell you how it is done. It’s appalling,” Bischof said.

  He said it is not easy for teachers and educational assistants to give up pay, it is not easy being away from the students they support and work with every day.

  “I want to remind people…we didn’t start this. We didn’t go to the bargaining table and say to the government ‘look, we got a bunch of outrageous demands, and if you don’t meet these demands, we are going out on strike.’ That is not what happened at all,” Bischof said, who said that on March 15, “not at a bargaining table, the [then] Minister of Education, [Lisa Thompson], got to a podium and said she was going to cut one out of four high school teachers out of the system, she was going to cut thousands of education workers out of the system. She is going to enforce mandatory e-learning, like they do in…Alabama.

  “And we said, collectively, “That’s not on. We’re not going to have that,” Bischof said.

  “We have Ontarians on side supporting our position,” Bischof added. 

He claimed the OSSTF polling overwhelmingly showed that parents and the general public do not like what the government has put on the bargaining table. “They like our position. They like the idea of maintaining a high-quality education system on behalf of our students and on behalf of the province’s future.”     

  In the long run, Bischof said it is hard to predict how this situation will end, but noted, “In the 100-year history of the OSSTF, this is one of the historical fights we have ever been in. This is a fight that 10 and 20 and 30-years from now, future OSSTF members and future students are going to look back at what you’ve done, your willing to sacrifice, and thank you for standing up for publicly funded education.”   

  Bischof later explained to reporters that in more recent disputes, OSSTF has disagreed with the government, but he has not felt in the past 15-years a government was being dealt with that “was fundamentally opposed to delivering a quality education in Ontario.”

  Bischof noted OSSTF and the province have not sat at the bargaining table since December 16, 2019. Both parties met for a half a day, and Bischof said the Mediator said both sides were too far apart to be productive. Since then, he said the government has not moved off its position, which he claimed is to “erode the quality of education.”

  He added that as soon as OSSTF is invited back to the table, it will be there “in a heartbeat.”

  With the rotating strikes, Bischof said he knows they disrupt the students and their families. He said OSSTF has tried to maintain and measured approach. “We also know we have to oppose this government’s destructive course. We have been trying to balance that out and so far, that’s a principle we are not going to abandon.”

  At the bargaining table, Bischof said, “What my members are absolutely not prepared to do is allow for the erosion of quality of education. That comes up in some specific things, like maintaining reasonable class sizes, maintaining supports for students through educational workers who do that in all sorts of ways, [and] maintaining course options for students. As teachers get cut, the number of classes that are available get limited as well, so students can’t pick the pathways to pursue the future that they want.”

  The mandatory e-learning program, Bischof said, “Is an absolute disaster.” He added that in his opinion, this stream of education is “Flat out discriminatory; whether that is because you are a student living in a rural area that does not have access to high speed internet, whether you are a student that does not have the financial means to own the hardware that makes it reasonable to takes these kinds of programs; it discriminates against those kids, it cuts them out of the system, and limits their futures.”

  As other educational-related unions are also currently striking, Bischof said, “We’ve got this government that tries to create these divisions; divisions between parents and educators, between union members and their leadership. What we see now, is in fact is that the whole education sector is united against this government’s approach.”  

  Also last week, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) took part in a province-wide walk-out on Tuesday and a rotating strike in the GECDSB area on Wednesday.

  On February 12, according to Ontario Newsroom, Minister Lecce issued a statement in response to strike escalation by the four teachers’ unions, OSSTF, ETFO, OECTA, AEFO. 

  “Our focus is on keeping students in class, as they deserve better. That is why I am calling on the teachers’ union leaders to accept private mediation today and end this needless escalation.

  “Parents are losing patience with the disruption in their lives, the inconsistency in their children’s education, and the financial impact of scrambling for child care. That is why we have offered financial assistance through the Support for Parents initiative, which has seen an immense uptake of more than 575,000 applications.

  “While union leaders are organizing further disruption, our government remains focused on getting deals at the bargaining table through private mediation. We’ve made very significant moves on our position, but union leadership hasn’t moved on substantial items - like their already generous benefits packages and maintaining hiring based on seniority rather than on merit. Parents and students deserve no less.”

  According to https://www.wecdsb.on.ca/, as a result of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), all Windsor Essex Catholic District School Boards schools will be closed to students on Friday, February 21, 2020.

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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