Ontario Teachers Strike Education is probably the most important resource in our society. The education System determines our future, by educating the youngest segment of our population. For this reason, it should be of great concern when there is a problem or an issue like a Teachers’ strike. The Ontario teachers’ strike that began on Monday October 27 involves 126,000 teachers and affects 2.1 Million students in the province. This strike is North America’s largest, right ahead of the 1975 New York City strike when 60,000 teachers walked off the job . The main issue of debate is over Bill 160, which is all about who holds The Power to set education policy in the province of Ontario.

Bill 160 centralizes control of the education system, putting it in the hands of the provincial government. It eliminates the authority of school boards and teachers’ unions to set classroom and teaching conditions locally through collective bargaining. The bill allows the government to regulate class sizes, education property tax rates, teachers’ preparation time, the amount of time teachers and students spend in school and the use of non-certified instructors. The issue is whether teachers should have a role in educational reform. The strike is illegal, because most of the te! achers have existing contracts. Ontario premier Mike Harris said that reforms are needed to stop a decline in student performance.

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Although the same government announced that the bill will allow the education ministry to cut 7,000 teaching jobs and up to $700 million from the $14-billion education budget. The strike is not a typical one, because it’s not really a labor issue. It’s not about teachers fighting a school board over a collective bargaining agreement. It’s a strike protesting against the Harris government and Bill 160. While the teachers want to protest Bill 160, they also have an obligation to teach their Students.

Many teachers are caught in this dilemma; do you go to the classroom, or do you go to the wall to defend education? Are teachers responsible first and foremost for their students or should they be loyal to the union? Many teachers in Ontario feel that they should be there for their students, although they’re Scared To cross the picket line. Eileen Lennon, president of the Ontario Teachers Federation, has said that teachers who cross picket lines won’t be sanctioned. However, they might take heat from individual co-workers when they get back on the job. The Teachers feel that they have to show solidarity with the union, or they will be alienate! d. “Parents should be on the alert that their schools may be closed in the very near future,” Lennon said. “When we do it, it will be province wide.” Union members met with education minister Dave Johnson over changes to Bill 160, although nothing was resolved.

Johnson said he was discouraged following a one-hour meeting with representatives of the five major teachers’ unions. He said he would not make changes the unions demanded. “I was presented with a list of issues to pull out of Bill 160,” Johnson said. “I’ve been presented with an ultimatum to take these sections out of Bill 160 and further discussions, according to the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, are not able to take place until those sections are taken out of the bill.” Union leaders said they asked Johnson to remove some provisions that would allow the province to use non-certified teachers in classrooms and to regulate class size, teacher preparation time and the amount of time teachers spend in the classroom. Johnson says the changes are necessary to improve the quality of education.

The government and the unions have each spent over 1 million dollars in advertising, trying to win over the support of the people of Ontario. The most recent polls show that the unions have a slight edge over the government as they prepared for the illegal strike. Though the longer the strike lasts, the opinion will shift to the government. “The question is: How long will people put up with the inconvenience in light of the over-arching motives? “Right now, tone and character become extremely important.” Opinion on the issue is constantly changing, with a shift of two or three percentage points a day over the last week, most of it going to the government. Oracle Research released a poll Thursday October 23 showing that 44% of Ontarians would support unions in the event of a strike and 42% the government. But when asked who they feel is best qualified to set education policy in Ontario, 56% of respondents picked unions and only 21% picked the government.

The unions have run several TV and newspaper ads that try to convince Ontarians that a new education bill will cause a lot of problems in schools. Mike Harris had a direct television address to the province on Wednesday October 22, trying to convince people that Bill 160 is necessary, trying to convince teachers to stay on the job. Harris also started his own ad campaign, and participated in interviews with several different news channels. Unions are aware of the importance of public opinion and of the impact their actions could have on parents and students, according to Maret Sadem-Thompson of the Federation of Women Teachers Associations of Ontario. “They’re saying: “Yes, you care about my child, but you’re not going to be in the classroom and you’re going to inconvenience me and set me back financially,’ ” said Sadem-Thompson.

“We are very careful . . . that we reflect that concern in every single thing we do, whether it’s in a press release or it’s an ad we take out.” Talks have not really been going anywhere. The government and the unions met in Toronto, and could not even agree on a mediator to the dispute.

The government requested a third-party facilitator and the teachers’ unions agreed. Then the unions delivered a list of four names, all of which the government rejected. The next day the government offered its choice. They finally agreed on Charles Dubin, a retired Ontario judge. Parents are having a tough time deciding on what to do with their kids.

The government is offering $40 a day to cover day care and other expenses (money taken from the salaries that the government would have paid teachers). Many parents are getting private tutors for their kids, and in the event of a lengthy strike, the government has suggested that parents try to teach children themselves by putting some of the curriculum on the Internet. The government urged principals and other non-union employees to keep the schools open so children could obtain some sort of supervised care even if classes were canceled. But many administrators are expected to honor the picket lines. Several Ontario parents are taking legal action against the teachers’ unions. There was a $250 Million dollar lawsuit filed with at an Ottawa law firm against the teachers’ union, for extra expenses incurred by parents and other damages.

There are obviously many negative consequences to a teachers’ strike. When Secondary school teachers went on strike in the Ottawa area, students complained of shortened courses, summer school enrolments rose, school teams missed games, and schools cancelled out-of-town trips. In my opinion, this strike is absolutely necessary. The government should have the right to put together the curriculum for the teachers, and use some non-certified teachers just to save money. In addition, why should the government regulate class size, teacher preparation time and the amount of time teachers spend in the classroom. These are all decisions the teachers’ should make.

I cannot believe Mike Harris can look at the people of Ontario with a straight face and say that he is improving education in Ontario by cutting 700 Million dollars from it. Although the strike will be an inconvenience for hopefully a short time, hopefully it will give the power back to the teachers, and/or make huge amendments to Bill 160.