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Western Nova Scotia reacts after 82 per cent of voting teachers say 'yes' to illegal job action

Cindy Harnish with her seven-year-old son, and baby. Her son is a student at Somerset & District Elementary School, and despite feeling concerned students miss out during a strike, would support teachers should they move forward with job action.
Cindy Harnish with her seven-year-old son, and baby. Her son is a student at Somerset & District Elementary School, and despite feeling concerned students miss out during a strike, would support teachers should they move forward with job action. - Sara Ericsson

ANNAPOLIS VALLEY - Over 82 per cent of teachers that voted yesterday in Nova Scotia came out in favour of illegal job action.

A news conference was held at 3:15 p.m. Feb. 21 at the Nova Scotia Teachers Union headquarters in Halifax, where union president Liette Doucet announced the vote's results, which saw 93 per cent of public teachers turn out to vote.

Doucet declined to clarify how discussions went with the union's provincial executive on what job action could look like.

She also confirmed no further conversations are planned today between the union and education minister Zach Churchill.

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet confirmed 82 per cent of voting teachers voted for illegal job action yesterday in a provice-wide vote. photo: ERIC WYNNE • THE CHRONICLE HERALD
Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet confirmed 82 per cent of voting teachers voted for illegal job action yesterday in a provice-wide vote. photo: ERIC WYNNE • THE CHRONICLE HERALD

With the legislation set to meet next week, Doucet said she and the union hope to meet with the premier and minister "sooner rather than later."

“Rushing these recommendations [from the Glaze report] through is not helping students at all. It will cause chaos… and we’re hopin the gov’t realizes that," she said.

She confirmed that notice will be given to parents if job action happens to allow them time to make arrangements for childcare, but did not specify how much notice would be given, other than it would be "sufficient."

“My message to parents is we will give notice if job action is to take place… But right now we are looking into the best interests for their children…, our students," she said.

This conference comes after the union's provincial executives met Feb. 21 following the province-wide teachers vote yesterday on whether to strike that opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 8 p.m.

The union had previously stated job action could come as early as Thursday, if a majority yes vote had come through from teachers.

Public reacts

People are sharing their reactions after a press conference with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union today revealed over 82 per cent of voting teachers are in favour of illegal job action.

With the union announcing the vote results but not confirming whether job action will happen, emotions look to be running high.

People like Cindy Harnish, whose seven-year-old son attends Somerset and District Elementary School, feel concerned with effects of job action but support it anyway, and recent Northeast Kings Education Centre graduate Lauren Millet, who experienced teachers’ work-to-rule and strike campaigns and are against more action.

“I missed out on a lot, and it solved nothing. I cannot support this at all,” said Millet.

Concerned but a yes to support

Cindy Harnish is mother to a seven-year-old boy who is a student at Somerset and District Elementary School.

Harnish said her number one concern is always that the students receive the education they deserve, which also includes extra-curricular activities like sports.

She says students were heavily impacted by last year’s work-to-rule and strike and doesn’t want to see them lose out again.

“They don’t get that same relationship with that teacher, because the teacher does just the minimum, and none of that extra stuff. That was hard on everybody, even the teachers,” she said.

Harnish added that childcare during strike periods can be costly for parents, especially those who don’t have friends or family that can help them out under short notice.

“It’s expensive, and for people who don’t have the child’s grandparents or other relations around, that can mean a lot of money,” she said.

Lauren Millet was a grade 12 student at Northeast Kings Education Centre during last year's work-to-rule and strike.
Lauren Millet was a grade 12 student at Northeast Kings Education Centre during last year's work-to-rule and strike.

Despite her concerns, Harnish said she’d ultimately support teachers if they move forward with illegal job action.

“I give them all the credit in the world, I really do,” she said.

‘Little room for sympathy’

Lauren Millet was a grade 12 student last year at Northeast Kings Education Centre in Canning during teachers’ work-to-rule campaign and strike.

She said she will in no way support teachers this time around if they decide to take job action, since she feels last year’s strike was frustrating and accomplished nothing.

She also feels that she missed out on the full senior year experience due to lacking social events, sports teams and other activities.

As someone who felt excited to participate in both of these, she feels her mental health as a student was impacted.

“The first strike was very selfish. Teachers asked a lot of students and didn’t consider the impact it had on students,” she said.

“There’s no way I’d support more job action.”

She said the strike has made her question whether teachers are really in the profession for the love of it, or whether they enjoy the perks of a healthy paycheck and summer vacations.

“It really does make you question things. My teachers wanted me to volunteer and help out last year, but I said no – why should I give them my time if they aren’t willing to do the same for me?” she said.

“There’s little room for sympathy for teachers.”

Not the right time to strike

Frank McLellan works at Valley Stove and Cycle, a Kentville business that employs several high school students part-time.

Frank McLellan supports the teachers' right to strike since they are union members, but does not agree that job action is the best solution to the current situation.
Frank McLellan supports the teachers' right to strike since they are union members, but does not agree that job action is the best solution to the current situation.

He said while he supports the teachers’ right to strike as union members, he would not support this specific case of job action.

He worries job action will place added strain on the young employees, who are feeling frustrated after already having lost several days this year due to weather-related school closures.

“They have the right to express their concern, but I don’t know that a strike, in this instance, is the right way to go about that,” he said.

McLellan said he doesn’t know for sure if he’s for or against the province’s changes to the education system, but that he understands it means significant changes to a teacher’s daily work routine, and knows they’d want to respond strongly to them.

“A strong response is definitely merited here, but I would hope there would be another way to make that happen than to strike,” he said.

Strike not the right answer

Debbie Reimer is a social worker in Canning and worries about how any job action will impact families of students currently in school.

“Some parents already have few resources and will have to extend those already thin resources to cope with getting their kids looked after during a strike,” she said.

She is against potential job action for this reason, along with several others, including questioning whether teachers are in it for the kids, or in it for the money. If their motives were clearer, she said she might feel differently.

Social worker Debbie Reimer said she will not support teachers if job action follows today's vote which saw over 82 per cent of teachers say yes to illegal job action.
Social worker Debbie Reimer said she will not support teachers if job action follows today's vote which saw over 82 per cent of teachers say yes to illegal job action.

“It really does feel like money is ruling this,” she said.

Reimer said she agrees teachers need more resources, particularly for their younger students.

As someone who’s worked within child services, she feels especially concerned that current education standards are nowhere near what they should be.

However, she still doesn’t feel job action is the answer.

“I of all people know and agree that teachers need more resources, but punishing the kids isn’t the way to achieve them,” she said.

More Annapolis Valley residents react

For Middleton's Frank Hogg, it was only common sense to see the government and union sit down together.

"Why are they jumping into this so fast?" he asked moments after the announcement. "The two sides should sit down and come to a reasonable term."

He doubts that the government plan could be changed but hopes that McNeil and Churchill will listen to the NSTU's opinions.

"That's what the union are so upset about, they didn't come and talk beforehand - just said this is the way it's going to be. They brought them to their knees a little bit, they're going to give the principals and vice-principals a year, but I'm going to wait and see what happens until they have this talk - if they have this talk," he said. "I'm not in favour of a strike anywhere - I had 68 employees back when I was in business - and union was always a scary thing for anybody. But I'm not in favour of what McNeil's been doing."

Frank Hogg
Frank Hogg

Erica Pretzlaw isn't hopeful any discussions between the province and the union will be successful.

"Last year, they didn't get anywhere - neither one of them got anywhere," she said. "My thought is that they will both go in with a bad taste in their mouth. Nothing ever got resolved. I wouldn't anticipate that wanting to talk about it will get anywhere - again."

She can see the union's perspective, the Paradise woman said.

"If (the union) walks off (the job) and that's what they have to do, then that's what they have to do," she said.

She doesn't believe the Glaze report should be implemented at all.

"The teachers didn't agree with that plan in the first place, so to go ahead and just make that decision without involving the union is not the right choice from the get-go," Pretzlaw said. "That is going to force a strike.

Aylesford resident Vanessa MacNeil is concerned about a lack of a clear plan. Her son is to young to attend school, but she has been watching the developments with interest.

"I think the teachers have a right to be angry, I think that they have the best interests of the students at heart, but this union is playing publicity games, like they did last year, and that is ultimately going to hurt public relations," she said, but added that the province has been playing a role in the problem as well.

"I think that this government is playing reckless games with education in this province and that it will ultimately be the students who pay for that."

Kings County resident Ashley Roblin agreed,adding that she couldn’t help but wonder why leadership from all parties weren't addressing this as a more serious issue.

"Ultimately, the only people this is going to hurt is the students from Primary to Grade 12, every one of them is going to be affected in some way…the government is playing a very dangerous game,” she said.

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