I don’t think you get it. Still.

Dear Kathleen Wynne:

It’s been a while since last I wrote to you. I know you probably never see my letters. I get responses, but they are always form letters. Yet, I cannot stop trying. One day I hope you will see the frustration and the disappointment and think deeply about the subject I am trying to share with you. But really, I don’t think you get it. Still.

I spent today with a large group of hardworking (over-worked really) educators. These people work with the most vulnerable students in our schools – the very young and the marginalized. The students who have disabilities, mental health issues, some with life situations that would make you cry, and learning challenges – these important people are our life’s work.

Today, we had professional development training. Some people worked on creating activities for their students, others had training on health and safety, back care and lifting, or Non-violent Crisis Intervention. During my session, we learned a lot. We laughed a lot. We heard about people’s challenges. And to a person, everyone knew that things are getting harder. We are doing more with less. We are being expected to support students while also picking up more duty minutes that take us away from those students. People are being hurt regularly – and by that I mean for some, it is hourly. Not once in a blue moon. Hourly. You think the tension of having the media watch your every move is a hard way to spend your day – try spending it with your shoulders tight and your mind always alert to the next punch or spit or projectile.

It is a hard way to work. People say, you chose this field, suck it up.

Yes we chose this field. We did not chose to do it in the conditions that the education system in Ontario has become in the last few years. Money is coming out of the system at a pace that is not sustainable. Supports for our students and for us as workers on the front lines are disappearing. People are being asked to spread themselves too thin. This is not acceptable. Our students mean more than that. We mean more than that.

We know where we stand in your mind. Our groups were the last ones to be at the bargaining table, waiting for the other employee groups to wade through the maze that is the negotiating framework in Ontario. That speaks volumes. But we are being squeezed from the top and the bottom – you are not reducing what we pay for goods and services, we are not getting any significant increases and you are stripping the supports for our students to the bare bones.

I know, I know. There’s no money in the pot to pay workers more. There is no money to have more psychologists and speech and language specialists. There is no money.

Whose fault is that?

Why is the education system paying for mistakes of the government? Why are education workers paying for the mistakes of the government?

Why are students paying for the mistakes of the government?

Nope. You don’t get it. Still.

don’t give up

The ink is not yet dry on the many contracts that the Ontario government negotiated with education workers throughout the province. But the writing is on the wall.

The government has won. Education workers throughout Ontario have paid the price for the government’s overspending, mismanagement and lousy decisions. Education workers, like most Ontario residents, are paying more for their goods and services. Education workers, unlike the government, are paying those prices while bringing home effectively less money, working harder due to cut backs within schools and continuing to be maligned by the government.

I know it seems bleak. I know it feels hopeless and people feel helpless.

I encourage people to not give up. Do not say there is no hope. The government won, but only this round. Now is the time to start working towards dismantling the negotiating framework that the government put in place in 2012 that stacked the entire process in their favour. Now is the time to say to the government we know what you are up to and we are not going away. 

Stand with your union – participate in your union – be your union. Become informed. Write letters. Go to rallies – not only those held by your union but any union in any sector that is fighting against the government’s quiet march toward pushing unions out.

Take a stand. Speak out to friends and neighbours and family members who say that unions are too strong, or that unions shelter bad workers. Tell those people YOU are the union. You are a good worker who needs a union because the government is too strong, the government is and has been abusing power and sheltering bad policies and decisions by making unions and union members the scapegoats.

don’t give up