For businesses that rely on schools, rotating strikes are making life tough

The impact of rotating school strikes is starting to reverberate beyond the classroom, with local businesses that rely on schools for revenue taking a hit.

More walkouts are slated for this week

An ETFO picket line on Elgin Street in Ottawa Feb. 5, 2020. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

The impact of rotating school strikes is starting to reverberate beyond the classroom, with local businesses that rely on schools for revenue taking a hit.

Danielle Le Saux-Farmer, artistic director of Catapulte Theatre, said her theatre company has lost 50 per cent of its expected audience for this week's student matinee performances because of planned strikes.

The company puts on shows at La Nouvelle Scène Gilles Desjardins, a French-language theatre in Ottawa. But when a show is cancelled because of a strike, the theatre company still ends up paying performers with whom they've signed contracts, therefore incurring a financial loss.

"The rotating strikes and the directives that were given with the strikes are inhibiting the shows," Le Saux-Farmer told CBC Radio's All In A Day.

"We can't have them because the students can't come to the theatre and watch the performance."

Walkouts this week by teachers and support workers from three major education unions will close hundreds of schools across the province, with many school boards shutting for multiple days. Several unions are also engaged in work-to-rule campaigns with teachers refusing to engage in certain tasks, including supervising students on field trips.

In Ottawa, English public elementary students will only be at school for two days because teachers will spend two days on the picket line and Friday is a PA day.

Sparse schedule means fewer hours

Le Saux-Farmer said an additional planned tour that would have seen the company perform at schools around the province is now in doubt, since it's unclear whether the schools will be open for the scheduled performances.

She said it's the 20 to 30 artists involved with the theatre's student matinee productions and the provincial tour who are most affected by the cancellations, because they've booked time off and forgone other opportunities to perform with Catapulte Theatre.

"The ones that it affects most other than the students, in my view, is the self-employed … the starving artist that's trying to make ends meet," she said.

The sparse school schedule is also putting a strain on the operations of Elena Mazzola's business.

Mazzola is the co-owner of Mazzola Enterprises, a business that provides fresh, healthy meals for students. She said her company serves 4,000 students at 80 schools on a normal day.

With fewer meals needing to be prepared on days that students aren't in school, there are also fewer hours for her 45 employees to work, Mazzola told All In A Day.

"We are extremely concerned about the loss we are having in the number of hours our employees who are working," she said.

Elena Mazzola says her business that provides healthy lunches to students is suffering due to continued school strikes. (Ryan Patrick Jones/CBC News)

Students miss more than education 

Mazzola said she's giving her employees bonuses to make up for the lost income, an expense that's coming out of her pocket.

But both Mazzola and Le Saux-Farmer also worry about what students will miss out on when they can't show up for class.

In addition to her business, Mazzola runs a foundation called Hungry to Help that provides donations to students identified by their schools as in need of healthy meals. 

"We cannot deliver the food to them [when schools are closed] and we are worried about these children," said Mazzola.

And Le Saux-Farmer is concerned about the missed opportunities for students to take part in artistic performances.

"Whether it's an outing to the museum, whether it's going to see the ballet or contemporary dance or theatre, artistic experiences are really important," she said. "It's a huge loss for that student body."

With files from CBC Radio's All in a Day


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