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High school teachers, support staff set up picket lines across Ontario for 1-day strike

1-day strike held by Ontario high school teachers and support workers
WATCH ABOVE: Thousands of teachers in Ontario hit the picket lines for a one-day strike. Caryn Lieberman reports.

Ontario high school teachers and support staff have set up picket lines all over the province as part of their one-day strike in protest of a lack of movement in contract talks between the union and provincial government.

“No strike to protect high quality education,” “Negotiate! Don’t legislate,” and “Psych helps all students” were among some of the many signs being used by picketers.

“Because of the cuts the kids aren’t falling into the cracks, they’re being pushed into the cracks,” child and youth worker Tiffany McDermott told Global News while picketing in front of Toronto District School Board headquarters Wednesday.

READ MORE: Ontario public high school teachers hold 1-day strike after contract talks stall

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), which represents about 60,000 public high school teachers and support workers, said the government had not put forward any constructive proposals during the negotiation process.

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“After midnight we have not reached an agreement and so the strike is officially on,” said OSSTF President Harvey Bischof. “OSSTF education workers and teachers will be back in schools Thursday. We remain ready to negotiate.”

The hundreds of support workers in front of TDSB cheered in response every time passing motorists honked their horns in solidarity.

“I feel really strongly that we play an important role … [along with] all of the other professional support services in supporting students mental health, well-being, learning,” said psychological associate Dayna Morris who held a sign which read, “Psychology supports student learning, mental health, well being and success.”

“It’s something we all love and it’s something that we all want to keep doing,” she continued.

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Ontario’s public high school teachers have been without a contract since August.

‘Parents don’t want larger classes’: OSSTF President Harvey Bischof
‘Parents don’t want larger classes’: OSSTF President Harvey Bischof

High school students from Richview Collegiate Institute spent their day playing hockey and told Global News it beat “sitting around” on their phones all day.

When asked how they felt about the strike, the students said they were supportive of their teachers.

“I feel like it’s definitely necessary. Class sizes are much too big and there’s not enough support in the classes,” said Aminah Kirefu.

“I think that there are certainly things that shouldn’t be changed so the strike makes sense,” added Sarah Abbott.

Elsewhere students brought their teachers from Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute coffees as they walked the picket lines.

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Global News spoke to students in Toronto’s downtown core, where high schoolers said they had just finished a Ryerson University walking tour. Two boys were just “walking around” before they were going to head home to work on a project due Thursday and a group of Grade 12 girls were going to go shopping at the Eaton’s Centre.

READ MORE: Talks between Ontario high school teachers’ union, province stalled ahead of 1-day strike deadline

On Tuesday night, Education Minister Stephen Lecce asked the union to call off the strike, saying his bargaining team had presented a new “framework” to the union in a bid to keep all parties at the table.

Bischof said the teachers had not been given anything new by a mediator, and no progress had been made for days.

“We spent four days at the hotel starting Saturday morning to midnight last night,” he said. “Not a single new proposal. I think we’ve had about a half hour of face-to-face meetings and not one proposal brought forward.”

The union announced last week that teachers could walk off the job in order to turn up the pressure during tense labour negotiations with the Progressive Conservative government.

“I would say it’s a fairly reasonable step for us given the fact that the government, just a number of months after it was elected, began cutting publicly funded education in Ontario,” OSSTF Local President Leslie Wolfe told Global News Wednesday. “Just about a year ago, they took $25 million out of programs for mostly at-risk students.

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Ontario government allegedly didn’t offer new proposals for secondary school teachers as contract negotiations ongoing
Ontario government allegedly didn’t offer new proposals for secondary school teachers as contract negotiations ongoing

The teachers are already conducting a work-to-rule campaign and say they are pushing back against government plans to increase class sizes and introduce mandatory e-learning courses.

“We have spent eight months attempting to bargain a deal, we have spent eight months saying to this government that it cannot cut our school system and we’re at the point now, where we’re taking this step,” Wolfe continued.

Bischof told Global News that he sympathizes with parents and those who may be frustrated with the strike action.

“…But we know that parents told this government through the government’s own consultations that the vast majority weren’t interested in larger class sizes, they weren’t interested in e-learning.”

READ MORE: Ontario government consultation shows parents overwhelmingly reject class size increase, sources say

The strike will call political attention to the cuts that this government has already imposed and wants to impose further, Bischof continued.

“We have seen this government change direction when faced with political opposition and so that’s our intention.”

School boards across the province said Tuesday they would be forced to close their high schools because of the job action.

Lecce has said the main issue in the talks is compensation, with the government recently passing legislation to cap annual wage increases for all public sector workers at one per cent for three years. The union is asking for inflationary increases, which would amount to about two per cent.

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Bischof dismissed the claim that compensation is the main issue as “outrageous.”

The minister said the government remains ready to bargain, but did not provide any further details of the new framework apparently offered on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Bischof said the union will go back to the table whenever there is “an invitation to do so.”

“Anytime the government is prepared to put a proposal on the table that will secure the education quality in Ontario,” he said.

With files from The Canadian Press