“They haven’t made any concessions.”
BY: IRELYNE LAVERY AND SARAH TAHER
Bonita Turner, 58, has been teaching for 27 years. She sat on the executive of ETFO (Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario) in York Region for six years and has been a steward for 14. Turner currently teaches in a full day kindergarten class at Redstone Public school in Richmond Hill. She has been involved in the failed bargaining and stages of striking that has taken place in Ontario over the last few months and is ready to talk about it.
Can you tell us a little bit about why the teachers went out to strike?
Since August, we have been diligently going to the bargaining table. Sam Hammond and our bargaining team has shown up everyday that we’ve had bargaining. The government has either shown up for the first few minutes, left, shown up for the last few minutes, and left, or they’ve sat there for the day and we’ve asked them, ‘Please tell us your plan for FDK (full-day kindergarten).’ They say, ‘We do not have authority to discuss that.’
This is not [Stephen] Lecce at the table. He’s actually never been in the room. It’s really laughable that he’s always on the news saying how hard he’s working. They have hired an external bargaining unit that they are paying… paying to sit there.
After months of that, we went into what’s called a no-board report, stating that we can not negotiate in good faith when the other side is not even telling us what their intent is.
We are not asking for anything above what we have. We are asking for the status quo.
We got the no-board report — which puts us in a legal position to strike, ten days later — hoping that the government would think twice about coming to the table. ETFO has their directions from the teachers. The union isn’t controlling us, we’re controlling the union.
We started with not doing any administrative things that aren’t part of our job anyways. We’re only going to do our job. We were still keeping extra-curricular trips. The next level–after a couple of weeks went by with no change–extracurriculars and trips were off. Finally, we did our first one day strike. Upcoming we have a bargaining meeting on Mar. 11, and we’ll see what happens with that. That’s why.
How does striking impact the education system?
For our students during the day, their academics are protected. The days off, for strikes, we don’t have them for those days, so they are losing those days of time. It’s more of a struggle to meet all of the curriculum expectations.
For the parents, it’s a lot of time off work, it’s a lot of struggling to find babysitters, and to figure out those logistics. Yet, the parents are 100 per cent on our side.
For teachers, we’ve lost over three per cent of our pay. We’re no longer even fighting for a pay increase. Even if we got the 2 per cent that we’re asking for–which is below the cost of living increase–it wouldn’t make up for what we’ve lost. Teachers are getting very tired of fighting, and fighting, and fighting for preserving public education and the government not even coming to the table.
Impact on in-school daycares has also been very concerning because when those schools are closed, the daycares are closed too. They lose their money.
Why did you personally strike?
There has always been a teacher in kindergarten and there always needs to be a teacher in kindergarten. The teacher is the person who’s trained in academics. By putting two ECEs (early childhood educators) in a kindergarten class, you essentially make it a daycare situation. ECEs are not trained to teach academics.
The violence in the schools against teachers has become so bad. Last year there were five cases in our school where educators were so injured, that they were off for months. One who got repeatedly kicked in the spine, by a very large student, who had autism. These things happen daily.
Our government is refusing to look at the numbers, refusing to look at the violence in the schools.
There’s been a special education funding that’s been a standard for years and it worked. Last year the Ford government slashed that money. We want that money back.
Notice how I haven’t talked about anything that has to do with our pay. That’s because that’s never what teachers go out for.
One of the things that the government wants to do is rescind Bill 274, which is the way occasional teachers are hired for contract. Lecce would have you believe this is just about seniority and not about ability and it’s not in any way.
Our system says that the top five people who have had positive evaluations and are perfectly qualified for the position, are the five people that the principle can interview for the position. However, if they interview those first five people and they don’t find somebody who matches what they need, they go to the next five people. It’s a way of making sure that the qualified person gets the interview and gets the job.
The government doesn’t know what they’re talking about when they’re talking about Bill 274.
Do you think it’s important for staff members to physically participate in the strikes?
We have a number of staff who are elderly or have a medical issue. We make accommodations for those staff. We want all of our members to be well and healthy.
Other than that it is important for every staff member to be out there together, rallying. It’s a point of equity. We all pay those dues. We all get the support from our union and we’re all fighting for the same thing.
We even had bus loads go down to Niagara on a Saturday. We had a huge crowd of teachers there. Even some retired teachers. Everybody is in the same fight here.
What would be the perfect class size?
I’m kindergarten so I would like a cap of 25. I have 28 students in my class right now. I have about five that have learning issues. Three that are behavior issues and four that don’t speak english. Even with an ECE and a teacher, it’s a very difficult, challenging group.
For our grade four to eight, right now we have classes of up to 33 students. These rooms were created with 20 kids in mind, that’s 20 desks. They have basically no room to get around desks. It’s overcrowding.
If you said 22 kids, and that’s a hard cap, in primary, and 25 kids in junior and intermediate, all of the teachers would be a lot happier.
Do you believe it has a positive effect on students to have smaller class sizes?
Without a doubt. There’s a huge difference when kids have more space. They’re more attentive. They’re learning more.
Do you believe that e-learning should be mandatory for students to complete?
Absolutely not. You learn by doing. You learn by having interactions.
You’re creating a have and have-not society and that’s not fair to kids. It’s a real shame that they want to put our kids in the line of fire so that they can make money.
Are teachers paid appropriately for the duties that they complete?
I make a good salary. If my pay was to go up the same amount as the cost of living, I would be okay. Over the last 10 years, I’ve lost almost 12 per cent of my pay. When you get a one per cent raise and the cost of living, that year is 2.1 per cent, you’ve lost 1.1 per cent of your pay. We have not had a year in the last 10 years, where we have actually met cost of living increase.
I’m tired of apologizing for wanting a pay raise. Teachers are the lowest paid of the professionals. Teachers aren’t getting paid what they’re worth. I would love for Lecce to come into my classroom, with 28 kids, plan for a week, execute those plans, see progress in students, and tell me he’s getting paid enough.
Are you happy with the concessions made by Education Minister Stephen Lecce and the province of Ontario?
They haven’t made any concessions. I watched him the other day talk about OSSTF on the news and every single point was a full faced lie. It’s absolutely ridiculous how he’s saying all of these things in the media, but nothing is being said at the table.
According to Chatelaine, “Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced that the Ford government will reimburse parents of kids up to age 12 for up to $60 a day in childcare costs during a possible strike, which would cost the province $48 million per day. Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) president Sam Hammond described this as “absolutely insane,” adding that the millions should be invested in students instead.” What is the right thing to do on this subject matter?
This whole idea of paying the parents for the inconvenience is a way of trying to disrespect unions. There’s no one that doesn’t understand that the Ford government hates unions. They want to blame the unions for everything. He doesn’t seem to understand how we work.
He wants to go back to a situation where we didn’t have control over maternity leave. Where we didn’t have weekends off. Where we didn’t have equity in pay for women and men. He wants to erase all of that because let’s face it, that’s what unions have done. Unions have protected people and brought all of those things to fruition.
He does a tactic like this to try to make the unions look bad.
ETFO is going back to the bargaining table on Wednesday, what is expected to happen?
I hope that something positive happens. If things start to move for the highschool then hopefully things will start to move for the public school. Let’s hope they come back and are ready to talk and take this seriously.
We’ve got better things to do than strike. We’ve got kids to look after.
This interview has been edited and condensed.