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London teachers hit the picket lines in 1-day strike

Striking London teachers gather around a fire during a demonstration outside Banting Secondary School on Wednesday.
Striking London teachers gather around a fire during a demonstration outside Banting Secondary School on Wednesday. Sawyer Bodgan / 980 CFPL

Teachers are braving the cold weather and hitting the picket lines at public high schools and French public schools in London.

Wednesday marked the third teachers’ strike in three weeks as contract talks continue to stall between the province and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF).

READ MORE: Ontario high school teachers from 10 boards hit picket lines for 3rd job action

Sandra Miller was among dozens on strike outside Banting Secondary School on Wednesday.

Miller, an attendance councillor with the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB), argues cuts would have dangerous consequences for students.

“If a student is not having their mental health needs cared for, then they’re not going to be available in the school for learning. if a student is unable to do an e-learning class and they fail, then they’re not available for learning,” she said.

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“The government wants to save money on the back of education workers’ salaries and benefits and that sort of thing, but I believe where they’re also going to save money is on the backs of vulnerable students.”

The government says the main issue is compensation as the province attempts to cap public sector salary increases at one per cent. The union is asking for increases of approximately two per cent.

A government-appointed mediator called off talks between the parties until the new year, saying their proposals remain too far apart.

The OSSTF’s Thames Valley local president John Bernans says issues surrounding student learning have kept talks with the province stalled since Monday.

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“The government has said that that’s happened because of compensation. I have to say that compensation was not a topic for discussion on Monday. They fell apart purely on those issues that I talked about: the class sizes, the mandatory e-learning and support for students.”

READ MORE: Ontario teachers’ unions launch charter challenges of law capping wage increases against province

The Thames Valley local’s continuing education instructors bargaining unit president Deb Haagsma also hit the picket line outside Banting, where she argued that her members are often overlooked.

“Over the last few years, our workload has doubled. We are some of the lowest-paid education workers in the low-30s. I’ve been with the board for 22 years and I’m still in the low-30s. We’re just looking for a livable wage,” she told 980 CFPL.

“We are front-line workers for newcomers to Canada, which is huge for our economy. They need to learn the language and we also help them integrate into society, to get employability skills, to learn how everything functions here in Canada and to welcome them.”

Wednesday’s strike closed public high schools in London, along with all French schools under Conseil Scolaire Viamonde.

Locally, public elementary and all Catholic schools were not affected by the day’s job action.

— with files from the Canadian Press.

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