Wednesday, November 03, 1999

CUPE Strike in Toronto Not Necessary

At 6:30 A.M. on Sunday, February 27, 1999, CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) "Local 4400, who represent 14,000 support staff" (Harding "Toronto school staff back strike.") went on a legal strike. The strike closed twenty-one schools and put the Toronto public school system into chaos. The Toronto Public School Board was forced to close the twenty-one schools because they require stationary engineers or chief caretakers, to operate them. These caretakers and engineers are members of the CUPE that went on strike. Even the schools that were open were thrown into disarray as garbage piled up, toilets overflowed, and "the board of health received close to 300 inquiries" (Talaga "Close schools, principals urge") by both concerned parents and students.

The strike left, --as most strikes in the education system do--the students caught in the middle. The issues in this strike, according to C.U.P.E, were "wages, benefits, job security, and contracting out" (Lu and Talaga "We'll close 20 more Toronto Schools, union chief vows"). These issues, ironically, were the same issues for the O.S.S.T.F. (Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation) in the Toronto teachers' strike of September 1998. Both the teachers' federation and C.U.P.E. blame the new provincial funding formula for causing the strikes. However, Board Chair Gayle Nyberg disagrees. The Board, Nyberg said in a Toronto Star Article, "has the ability to negotiate a far deal [because] the money is there" (Lu and Talaga "Frustration mounts over school strike"). C.U.P.E. countered, according to a board report tabled Jan. 6, 1999, that "840 custodial and maintenance jobs 276 school support staff and 1,050 central administration positions" (Harding "Toronto school staff back strike") faced elimination due to the new provincial funding formula handed down in September.

The funding model, however, is not to blame for the labour strife in Toronto. The Toronto School Board is the one that people should be pointing their fingers at. The board is spending money on "frills" such as free lunch programs and free before and after school programs instead of putting the money back into budgeting for building larger schools. This lack of planning has caused the Toronto School Board into this situation. However, if the Toronto School Board had planned properly many of the students the board now housed in portables could easily have been moved into these new schools. Also, the school board could have closed many of the inefficient smaller downtown schools. By closing many of the inefficient schools the Toronto School Board could have reduced their operational costs significantly and had the necessary money to give C.U.P.E. a fair contract deal.

What the school board now needs to do is to start reducing costs by laying off administrative staff and cutting the 'frills' (e.g. free lunch programs, etc.) that the board has and look at creating greater efficiencies within the services that they provide. This is just what occurred at other boards when the province was cut the board's transfer payments. For example, The York Region Board of Education and the York Region Roman Catholic Separate School Board merged their purchasing departments, school bus routes, courier services and some administrative services. This not only created greater efficiencies but also saved both school boards enormous amounts of money. This money saved now can be used in other areas that are desperate for funding. All the Toronto School Board has to do is study the actions of other school boards in order to see how they can reduce their own operating costs and create greater efficiencies within the board similar their counterparts in York Region.

Therefore, it is not the new provincial funding formula that is to blame, it is the Toronto School Board's mismanagement of funds that is to blame. However, C.U.P.E. is not entirely innocent in this situation because they are the cause of the labour strife. The Province of Ontario needs to ensure that this type of labour strife does not affect the classroom. This can be done if the province passes legislation that makes both teachers and operational workers within the school system an essential service. By declaring both unions an essential service, this would prevent the teachers' union and C.U.P.E. from disrupting the lives of students. Also, the province needs to move the negotiating portion of the education system to the provincial level. It is currently the Ministry of Education that decides which board receives what amount of funding to the school boards. The school boards, however, must utilize that money to the best of their ability to negotiate with the unions and operate the schools. By banning and moving the negotiations to the provincial level, the Ministry of Education can ensure that the unions are treated fairly because the ministry currently controls the funding for education and not the school boards. These changes would ensure that our children would not be forced into the middle of another labour strike.


Bibliography 

Harding, Mark. "Toronto school staff back strike." The Toronto Star 18 Jan. 1999. On-line. Internet. 7 March 1999. Available: jarvis.thestar.ca/thestar/back_issues/ED19990118/toronto/990118newo5_cl-strike18.html.

Ho, Tanya. "Students could still return to messy schools." The Toronto Star 14 March 1999. On-line. Internet. 14 March 1999. Available: thestar.com/editorial/news/990314NEW05_CI-STRIKE14.html 

Lee-Shanok, Philip. "Students' year may go overtime." The Toronto Sun 14 March, 1999. On-line. Internet. 14 March 1999. Available: canoe.ca/TorontoNews/04_n3.html.

Lu, Vanessa. "'Flying squad' hunts cleaners." The Toronto Star 5 March 1999. On-line. Internet. 7 March 1999. Available: jarvis.thestar.ca/thestar/back_issues/ED19990305/toronto/990305NEW01_CI-UNIONS.html

Lu, Vanessa, and Tanya Talaga. "Frustration mounts over school strike." The Toronto Star 4 March 1999. On-line. Internet. 7 March 1999. Available: thestar.com/backissues/ED19990304/toronto/990304NEW01_CI-strike.html.

Lu, Vanessa, and Tanya Talaga. "We'll close 20 more Toronto schools, union chief vows." The Toronto Star 6 March 1999. On-line. Internet.7 March 1999. Available: thestar.com/backissues/ED19990306/news/990306NEW01_CI-strike6.html.

Talaga, Tanya. "Close schools, principals urge." The Toronto Star 12 March 1999. Online. Internet. 14 March 1999. Available: thestar.com/back_issues/ED19990312/toronto/990312NEW01_CI-STRIKE12.html 

Talaga, Tanya. "Parents show support for striking school staff." The Toronto Star. 5 March 1999. On-line. Internet. 7 March 1999. Available: jarvis.thestar.ca/thestar/back_issues/ED19990305/toronto/990305NEW05_CI-STRIKE5html.

Talaga, Tanya. "Toronto schools strike looming." The Toronto Star 4 Feb. 1999. On-line. Internet. 7 March 1999. Available: jarvis.thestar.ca/thestar/back_issues/ED199024/toronto/99024New01_c1-school4.html.

 Zelkovich, Chris. "It was a most striking week." The Toronto Star 14 March 1999. Online. Internet. Available: thestar.com/editorial/opinion/990314CNT04_CO-REVIEW14.html.

Friday, October 15, 1999

Speech from the Throne

As I forked through the University of Ottawa's English Language student newspaper, The Fulcrum, I came a across an analysis of the Governor General of Canada's "Speech from the Throne" (held on Tuesday, October 12, 1999). Of course, being a university newspaper, the article harped on the fact there were hardly any specifics for funding post secondary institutions in Canada. I also noticed the article commented on the fact that universities were having problems finding enough space incoming students. Let's also not forget about the situation in the province of Ontario, of the "double cohort (two sets of graduating students from Ontario's secondary schools in one year) which will be graduating from the province's secondary schools in the near future.

I then reflected upon when I applied for university in the school year of 1997-1998. Back in secondary school I was encouraged to earn high marks in order to be accepted by a university. The fall of my graduating year (grade thirteen in Ontario), I applied for the Honours in History program at the three universities of my choice. I applied to Victoria College at the University of Toronto, Lakehead (Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada) and the University of Ottawa figuring I would require at least an average of eighty percent to be accepted. In May of 1998, I received my conditional acceptances from my three choices. Lakehead and the University of Toronto said I required at least a sixty percent average at the end of my OAC year (grade 13). Whereas, the University of Ottawa gave me the ultimatum of a seventy percent average. The low averages, I figured were because these universities had more spaces in their respective Honours in History programs than they had applicants. So now that I had no incentive to compete (my Ontario Scholar Award would show differently) for a spot because with an average just pushing the eighty percent range, I basically had my spot in university guaranteed.

 However, now I read in The Fulcrum that this year alone "the University of Ottawa had an increase of 9.5 percent in first year enrollment" (Heartfield, "Playing Catch-up." The Fulcrum, 14 October 1999, Page 3). I was told all throughout secondary school that universities only had so many places for students, and therefore, we were forced to compete with our marks for places. Therefore, it seems to me, that being an institution of 'higher learning', universities would take the top marks and say, to people bluntly, 'screw you' to the ones that don't make the grade. So why then did enrolment and tuition go up 9.5 percent in the same year at the University of Ottawa? So why are universities complaining about growth when they hold the key to their growth problem? The universities only have to grow when they wish to grow and the universities are given the necessary funding for growth. If the University of Ottawa didn't have the funding to increase enrollment from the government, then why did the university increase enrollment and give students a 9.5 percent increase in tuition?

The universities also complain that "every student means more funding is needed from the government" (Heartfield, "Playing Catch-up", The Fulcrum, Page 3). This problem can be solved by the universities because the universities, not the government, decide on the number of spaces the universities are able to provide. Therefore, if the number of applicants is higher than the number of spaces, the universities would then determine who would be eligible for those spaces based on applicants' marks. This plan would force the graduates from secondary school to compete in order to assure themselves a place in university. The plan would also appease the 'corporate hacks' who demand quality graduates from the universities.

The word, people, is competition. We were told in high school that we were going to have to compete in order to guarantee ourselves a place in university. So far, after one year at the University of Ottawa, I have found this world to be a complete farce. Take residence life for example, there is always a party going on somewhere. Competition would eliminate the people who seem to pay to come to university to party. By eliminating those rapscallions, there would be openings for the future brains of Canada who are serious about university and advancing society. By competing for university admissions, this would force the students to work extra hard in order to ensure themselves the privilege to study and learn from some of the greatest minds in the world. This would also teach our young adults the strength of a good work ethic that seems to be lacking these days.

The competition would also appease the corporations who invest large numbers of dollars into post secondary institutions. The corporations would be receiving even better educated graduates because the competition would force students to concentrate on their studies. Also, if universities are meeting and/or exceeding the education expectations of the corporations, the corporations, in return, would give universities more money to invest. This new money could then be invested into the university in order to grow and expand, or replace the government cutbacks to post secondary education.

Finally, by raising the marks required to enter into university, the electorate can get involved. The electorate holds the most powerful tool in politics, the vote. When the electorate complains that the averages required to enter into universities is to high, the government will listen. This, for obvious reasons, is because if the government wants to return to power after the next election, they need to support the electorates wishes. Education has always been a contentious issue for the electorate, therefore, when people complain, the government will act. Therefore, the government will either increase funding to post secondary education or face a humiliating defeat in the next election.

So instead of putting down the government. Take aim at the university administration who already has the tools to limit growth. What needs to be done is to put pressure on the administrations of the universities to keep tuition fees at reasonable levels and encourage the government to place limits on tuition fees for all post secondary programs. Also, with the inclusion of competition, the universities will be able to return to their roots, that is educating the best minds for the future, and not just collecting cash.

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