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Educators, union members rally for education

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
A rally for public education Thursday afternoon, brought about 70 individuals for a 30-minute rally in the parking lot at MPP Todd Smith’s constituency office in Rossmore.

Members of the local Elementary Teachers’ Federation and the Secondary School Teachers’ Federation were joined by families, friends and community members.

Demonstrators with placards marched quietly and respectfully back and forth at the edge of the lot, garnering positive attention from local traffic in support.

Dave Henderson, president of ETFO

Dave Henderson, president of ETFO (Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario) Hastings-Prince Edward thanked those in attendance, noting how the rally will probably be one of a few more to come.

Henderson said they have dealt with torrential rain, gale force winds and snow and ice, but noted everyone was here because the issues are important.

“A few weeks ago, we, the ETFO members, had a record turnout for our local meeting on a central strike vote,” said Henderson. “The vote was 98 per cent in favour of strike action, if necessary.”

He noted his members are engaged in the process, they are knowledgeable about the issues and they are committed to getting a good deal.

“Starting on Nov. 26, ETFO members are going to be engaged in legal strike action which will start with a work-to-rule,” he said. “The goal is to the turn up the heat on Doug Ford, Stephen Lecce, Todd Smith and others.”

Henderson noted how the government must come to the table with serious proposals to address real issues of concern.

“Class sizes are too large, special needs students have none of the necessary supports that they need for success, and the protection of the kindergarten program is important for ETFO,” he said.

Henderson also said something must be done to address the growing violence in classrooms.

“Our job action is designed to have the least amount of impact on students and parents because we know parents are on our side, they are opposed to the government’s cuts and we intend to keep them on our side,” he said. “Parents need to let the government know they are headed down the wrong road.”

“Legislation undermining collective bargaining rights is an affront to democracy,” added Henderson.

Henderson noted they are still at the table with dates for talks scheduled into December.

“Our goals are clear,” he said. “Our priorities are improved working conditions which will have a positive impact on students’ learning conditions. It’s time for investment in people, not cuts to front line services. Our members are mobilized and they are prepared to apply the pressure needed to get a deal.”

He noted how the teacher affiliates need to stick together, and how parents and the community need to stand behind the cause.

“If the government won’t come to the table with serious proposals then the public will know who to blame,” said Hendeson, indicating the location of MPP Todd Smith’s office across the parking lot.

Henderson asked everyone to keep the pressure on.

Scott Marshall, president of the local OSSTF

Scott Marshall, president of the local OSSTF (Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation) District 29 reiterated how important the issue is to everyone.

He noted how the cuts that this government continues to hold will have a direct impact on all students.

“When we met with Todd Smith during the spring, we were trying to get ahead of all this, to prevent all this,” explained Marshall. “At that time, this government said they would look for efficiencies, but this government then went on to oppose funding changes that would cut 10,000 teaching jobs.”

Marshall said that equates to 60,000 student courses in the province; and locally will mean 60 teachers and 360 courses gone from the seven high schools.

“Shame! shame!” came chants from the protestors.

He noted how the provincial government also imposed a mandatory e-learning model on students with evidence that clearly shows this will not allow equitable outcomes for all the students in the schools.

Graduation rates have increased from mid-60 per cent over a decade ago, to mid-80 per cent just a year-and-a-half ago he said. “Those are the numbers the government decided to make cuts on.”

Marshall further noted that Ontario’s public school students perform one of the best in the nation, and globally. “When this government says otherwise, they are simply lying,” he said.

“One of the greatest achievements we have here is being among the highest in the world when we measure the equity of student outcomes. That means we meet the needs of every single student that comes into our buildings. We are committed to protecting and enhancing public education, and we believe that it is in the public interests to keep them informed of the collective bargaining process.”

He said their position is fair and reasonable and built to protect the gains that have been made in local schools over the past decade.

“This transparency is absolutely necessary because this government has been misleading the public from day one about what the cuts will mean to the public education system,” indicated Marshall. “They say no one will lose their jobs, but thousands have already lost their jobs.

The chants continued: “No cuts!, save our schools!, no cuts!, save our schools!”

“We are here through rain and snow to send a message to our MPP Todd Smith that we are united, and our will is strong to fight back against these cuts and to protect our public education.

The rally was followed by a social gathering at a nearby pub.

Further information is available at bargainingforeducation.ca

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