Signals and signifiers

As we head to the end of 2015, it is interesting to note that the negotiating process in Ontario for education workers still has not concluded. We are talking about the negotiations for the 2014-2016 contracts here – we are not even in the right year at this point. We are past, past, past due for these negotiations. The process has fallen off the radar for the media, which works well for the government. The fact they have dragged their heels and dragged education workers through the mud served them well. They painted themselves as the heroes and education workers, and specifically teachers, as the villains.

Here’s my biggest problem with this: the people who were left last at the table, who were basically ignored by the government and the media, are the people at the bottom of the salary grid. And that fact alone is insulting and disappointing and ridiculous. It is not, as some would say, the fault of our unions. The government created the new negotiation system, one in which they hold all the power and all the cards. They decide the process, the timing of the process and who gets to show up when and where. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t an abuse of power the whole reason unions were necessary in the first place? So how did the government circumvent that? They legislated themselves into an iron clad position of power. Which indicates an abuse of power…and the circle goes round and round.)

The people who deal with the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society – the people who are early childhood educators and special needs/behavioural educators – are the ones being considered last. I believe that this points to a bigger systematic and societal issue. As the advocates and supporters of the most vulnerable, we represent our students. In the economic value system, we represent our students value to society.

And that is the problem. Our students, the very youngest and the most vulnerable, are incredibly valuable to their families, to our communities and to society. The money for those most vulnerable students and members of society is simply not enough. Programs to support behavioural programs and programs for people with mental health and disabilities are being cut, within and outside the school system. Salaries are being frozen and benefits being cut for workers who support people with these diagnosis – positions are not being filled or cut. The pressures being put on workers are increasing while supports and salaries are not keeping up with the demands.

This signals trouble and the treatment of education workers who work with these students is a signifier – a signifier of the way vulnerable people are considered by the government and institutions. Those signifiers should be ones that say, You matter.

The actions of our government, by putting that class of education workers at the end of the line, is just one of the signals that our system is in trouble – it is a big red flag that needs to be addressed.

Is anybody out there listening? Does anybody in power care enough to make a change?