The Life-Lessons Are Out (20 of Them)
with the Fight between the ETFO and Bill 115
By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
The irony of Bill 115 is that it’s known to be the Putting Students First Act, which gives the government the power to impose a contract on teachers if their school boards fail to negotiate a new collective agreement by a set deadline.
That deadline was December 31.
And unfortunately no new agreement was made at that time, which led to the Liberal government of Ontario to choose to impose a two-year contract that enforces elementary and high school teachers to have their wages frozen until 2014 and no longer be able to bank their sick days for retirement.
The imposition is, of course, powered by Bill 115 itself, and while teachers and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) disagree with it as a loss to their right to the democratic process of collective bargaining, the Minister of Education, Laurel Broten, announced that she will repeal Bill 115—but the reality is, not after the power it uses to impose the two-year contract that has recently been put into place.
It’s much like being coerced into lowering your weapon—that is, after you’ve already used it.
So, in response to the imposition of the teachers’ contracts, their frozen wages, and discontinuation of bankable sick days (and probably a lot more that I’m unaware of because I haven’t read it yet), the ETFO and its teachers have promised to continue to protest through job action.
And that was obvious with their plans to officially stage “a one-day political protest aimed at the government on January 11,” where parents were told to refrain from sending their child(ren) to school since (in my case) all Peel board elementary schools from Kindergarten to Grade 8 would be closed.
Parents like myself received notice of this on the afternoon of January 9th in letter-form from the Peel District School Board, only a day and a few hours before the protest was planned to take place—which meant last-minute scrambling for alternative care for our children in lieu of board-wide school closures.
And even though I was one of the luckier parents to suffer less because I’m already a Stay-at-Home-Mom (SAHM) with my three-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son, the interaction and decisions made as a result between the Ontario government and ETFO have certainly made it difficult for parents, children, and the community at large.
But the story doesn’t end there.
As a rebuttal to the ETFO’s effort in protesting against the government through board-wide school closures on the premise they could not “ensure the safety of students on the day of protest”—which they technically did not and could not call a “strike”—was met by the Premier, Dalton McGuinty’s quick action to seek a cease-and-desist order from the Ontario Labour Relations Board in what has now been deemed “an illegal strike.”
Call it what you will from either party—the ultimate losers of this labour battle are the children of which Bill 115 is called to protect and of whom teachers are called to educate.
In an even quicker (but not quick enough) response, the ETFO called off the planned walkout by teachers because the labour tribunal ruled the action would indeed be illegal. But ETFO did this at 4:00 a.m. on the proposed day of the protest, which left some parents, children, and families of school boards, notice of the change as late as 7:15 am, Friday morning.
You can imagine the uproar. The scramble. The confusion. And ultimately, the lack of communication and consideration given to Ontario parents, caregivers, and the children themselves—who had just spent the last 24 hours attempting to accommodate the needs of their children through alternative care and/or activities at the expense of their own wallets, time, and inconvenience—only, of course, to have the decision over-turned at the last-minute.
It’s a much more complex issue than arguing on behalf of labour rights versus implementing more control through financial ceilings in order to manage a $15 billion Ontario deficit. Nor is it just about inconveniencing parents for one or two days.
It is, however, about what lessons are really being taught to our children today on behalf of what has been said to be something ultimately in their favour—but is, in essence, not.
While we opt as a society to readily advocate inclusion, rights, and a protection of rights as well as the importance of fiscal responsibility—while those arguments are true, they have unfortunately moved to the forefront of an active duel between parties that have the power to hold parents and most especially, children, hostage in the educational sector.
In lieu of most recent strikes, one on December 11 and again, the planned, but cancelled “protest,” exactly a month later; this is how children and their parents have been affected (or threatened to be affected):
- board-wide bus service cancellation
- Before-School, After-School, and extended day programs offered by third-party providers cancelled
- Hubs, Readiness Centres, Parenting & Family Literacy Centres closed to students and families
- some, if not all, extra-curricular activities cancelled
- missed days of school
- ultimately gaps in opportunities for learning and access to curriculum and education
And with the recent imposition of contracts through Bill 115 and the even more recent ruling of the one-day political protest as an illegal strike, children are faced with:
- teachers forced to return to work under contracts that were not collectively bargained for
- potentially disgruntled teachers who are not only responsible for education in the classroom, but have direct contact with children and the outcome of choices made by the schools they work in as either directed by their union or themselves
- the cancellation of some, if not all, extra-curricular activities and student privileges
- a potentially negative or toxic working environment
- continual protest and battle between the ETFO and the liberal government concerning Bill 115
What the real life-lessons parents, children, and those that live in Ontario are “learning” through this “educational” process:
1. You have a right to feel entitled.
2. If you don’t like something, complain.
3. If your complaints are not being listened to or addressed in the way you would like, complain louder, more often, and for a longer time.
4. If you’re upset enough, just leave. And ask everyone you know to leave with you.
5. Negatively impact people who are not directly involved in your argument as pressure points to your opposition in order to gain leverage in your argument.
6. Saving money is more important than saving relationships.
7. Take sides.
8. It’s important to win an argument. Use all the power you have to win yours. (This is especially helpful if you’re already powerful enough to begin with.)
9. The tighter the pull, the more control you have.
10. The law is the law is the law—so long as it suits your purposes.
11. Shakespeare was wrong with: “What’s in a name?”—Apparently everything. Because you can change it and call it something else—and then somehow it is.
12. If you can’t make someone do something willingly, force him instead. And then make it legal.
13. Rebel for your cause. Then don’t rebel (the very next day) because it might cost you something more than your cause…like $2,000 x 76,000, for example.
14. The legalism of the law is more important than the spirit of the law and those of its people, which it is intended to protect.
15. Inconvenience others at the cost of putting yourself and your needs first.
16. Bullying is not allowed in schools or playgrounds. It is, however, allowed at the bargaining table and in courts.
17. Your decisions and actions don’t affect others negatively or at all— because they’re yours. And you’re entitled.
18. Parents should speak to their Human Resource representatives at work and ask them to implement or extend bankable sick days—because parents may need them to stay home if and when there is a last-minute teacher protest or strike. Or not. But, just in case.
19. Extra-curricular activities and student privileges are not important in the educational system because they are not mandatory.
20. Home-schooling is a viable option.