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Here's what the province and teachers get wrong on job action

Amid the teacher job actions, there's been a lot of misleading and false information coming from both the province and teachers and their unions. Here are some of the more common claims that have caused confusion.

Misleading, false claims over strikes, negotiations, jobs cause confusion

Susan Hoenhous, along with other teachers of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, strike in Toronto on Monday. It's the first time all four unions are involved in some form of job action since 1997. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Amid the teacher job action, there's been a spate of misleading and false information floating around. And both the provincial government and the unions and its teachers are to blame.

It makes an already complex situation — with four teachers unions all in different states of rotating job action — even more complicated to follow.

Here are some of the most commons claims that have caused confusion.

How often strikes happen

Education minister Stephen Lecce has often talked about the frequency of teacher union escalation, complaining it happens "every few years."

He even put out a video on Twitter, showing a timeline of more than 200 strikes in the period from Bob Rae's government in the 1990s to Doug Ford's today.

Education minister Stephen Lecce visits a library at a Toronto public school after making an announcement last November. He still thinks there is a way to get a deal at the table. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

But the strikes shown are misleading, as it includes local school board strikes, rather than just province-wide ones. This means a strike like the one-day event in Sept. 2005 in the Moosonee District School Area Board is included, even though it didn't impact anyone else in the province.

Not every union escalates action every few years. And in many cases, it is localized rather than province-wide.

The current action is significant, though. It marks the first time since 1997 all four unions are involved in some form of job action. Back then, all unions staged a two week, province-wide strike.

With the rolling strikes happening now, many teachers are returning to the picket lines for the first time since then.

Ontario Teachers' Federation president Eileen Lennon led thousands of teachers and their supporters on the front lawn of the Ontario Legislature in Toronto during the first day of their strike in 1997. (Kevin Frayer/Canadian Press)

Why strikes are happening

The province and the unions are also seemingly at odds over what the job action is about.

Unions have been focusing on issues like class sizes, e-learning, teacher shortages and school classroom. But the education minister has talked a lot about wages.

Who are the unions?

  • Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO): 83,000 members, mostly public elementary teachers.
  • Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF): 60,000 members, mostly public high school teachers.
  • Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA): 45,000 members, Catholic elementary and high school teachers.
  • Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO): 12,000 members, French-language elementary and high school teachers in public and Catholic boards.

Most unions have said they want more money than the one per cent increase the province is offering; Premier Doug Ford said he's not willing to consider anything more.

"Make no mistake about it, this is about compensation," he said.

Lecce echoed Ford's comments Monday, telling reporters compensation is something unions "choose not to talk about."

Teachers from Ontario's public elementary schools take part in a one-day strike in Toronto on Monday, as part of rotating union strikes. Some 170,000 students in Toronto were affected by the job action. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

But all unions told CBC compensation was on the bargaining table, with the ETFO, OSSTF and AEFO hoping to match inflation — which roughly works out to about a two percent increase. Only OECTA would not specify what it was seeking, saying it would better be discussed while bargaining.

It's wrong to say unions aren't talking about it but it's also incorrect to say it's not an issue to unions.

When have negotiations happened

As strikes got underway Monday morning, the Kawartha Pine Ridge Elementary Teachers Federation posted a tweet claiming there hasn't been a "single attempt to bargain."

It was then retweeted by ETFO president Sam Hammond, to his 15,000 followers.

That's not the case. Both Hammond's ETFO and the OSSTF were bargaining until the third week of December. OECTA last met with the province January 9, while AEFO had bargaining talks last week.

Only the French union has future talks planned, set for the end of the month. The province said bargaining with the other three unions is in the "hands of the mediator."

How many jobs at risk

Unions worry changes to class sizes or the province's plan for mandatory e-learning would cause job losses.

Some union members continue to cite 10,000 jobs being lost over five years, a number that was estimated in a September 2019 report by Ontario's financial accountability officer.

The FAO said 9,060 fewer high school teachers and 994 fewer elementary teachers would be needed by the 2023-24 school year.

Teachers march in front of Glashan Public School in Ottawa on Monday. For many teachers, the current job action marks the first time they have been out on picket lines since 1997. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

The number continues to be shared online but is no longer accurate, given the province has since changed plans after blow back.

For example, the province partially backtracked on larger classroom sizes in high school, from the proposed average funded 28 to 25, which means more teachers would be necessary than indicated in the report.

However, 22.5 students was the previous funded average and the government hasn't indicated it will go back to that number. That all but guarantees jobs will still be shed.

About the Author

Haydn Watters is a roving reporter for Ontario, primarily serving the province's local radio shows. He has worked for CBC News and CBC Radio in Halifax, Yellowknife, Ottawa and Toronto, with stints at the politics bureau and the entertainment unit. He also ran an experimental one-person pop-up bureau for the CBC in Barrie, Ont.

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