Thousands of education workers protest on Bayfield Street as part of province-wide one-day strike

First time all four unions were out of the classroom at the same time since 1997

An estimated four thousand education workers marched along Bayfield Street in Barrie on Friday as part of province-wide job action by all four of Ontario’s teachers’ unions.

“The support is phenomenal,” says the OSSTF’s EA/DECE Bargaining Unit President Rita Golds-Nikolić “It has warmed my heart probably more than I can ever recall. The presence of people, the interaction with media, the support from our community members and businesses along Bayfield Street, has been second to none.”

At the heart of this demonstration, issue of class sizes, online education, benefits, and salary, among others. Golds-Nikolić says it’s not just teachers taking issue either. “It is a continuing battle for us to fight for our autonomy. We are not all teachers, we do not all make the same salary. We represent a gambet of education workers.”

Friday’s one-day strike is the latest in a string of single-day job action being taken by Ontario’s educator unions but it hasn’t been enough to impact the entire year for students, according to the Ministry of Education’s MPP Robin Martin. She says there hasn’t been any talk yet of extending the school year as a result of lost class time. “We’re really cautiously optimistic that we can get a deal,” Martin told Barrie 360. “We want to bargain in good faith, and we want to get those kids back into the classroom.”

Martin adds there has not yet been any talk at the Ministry of back-to-work legislation, despite the impact the job action may have on residents’ day-to-day lives. “We know its really hard on parents,” Martin said, “we’ve heard stories from people who are genuinely worried that they can’t do this much longer. They’ve used up vacation time and sick days, and they’re fearful they’re going to lose their jobs if they can’t get back to their normal life and get their kids back in the classroom.”

Martin adds that progress has been made at the bargaining table with OECTA, Ontario’s English Catholic teachers’ union, and she continues to be optimistic similar progress can be made with the other three unions.

Members of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) and the Association des Enseignantes et des Enseignants Franco-Ontariens (AEFO) walked the picket line on Friday the 21st, as the unions and province struggle to see eye-to-eye.