Local teachers to strike for one day
Students from Barrie Central Collegiate protest in front of MPP Rod Jackson's constituency office, Tuesday, challenging Bill 115. J.T. MCVEIGH/QMI AGENCY/BARRIE EXAMINER
Public elementary school teachers across Simcoe County will be staging a one-day strike on Friday in response to Bill 115.
"Our goal is to send a message to the minister of education that Bill 115 has to be repealed," said Janet Bigham, president of the Simcoe County Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), which represents Simcoe County District School Board teachers and early childhood educators.
The local ETFO bargaining unit is not alone. Teachers in the Avon Maitland area, north of London, and the Ontario North East District board, which includes Temagami, Timmins and Hearst walked out Monday, while those in the Niagara Region protested Tuesday.
The Simcoe County school board, like others across the province, will be closing its elementary schools during its teachers one-day strike.
"It's disappointing that after many years of labour peace, we've come to this point," said board chairman Robert North.
When there have been strikes and lockouts in the past, boards and local bargaining units have had more control.
"Now the province is calling the vast majority of the shots and leaving us with very little wiggle room to negotiate with our own bargaining groups," said North, who, like Bigham, is frustrated Bill 115 — the Putting Students First Act — is impeding local bargaining efforts.
The legislation was brought in after public school teachers refused to accept the same new contract with cuts to wages and sick benefits that Catholic school teachers agreed to when their contracts expired in the summer. They were given until Dec. 31 to reach new ones.
"The decision of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario to move forward with one-day rotating strikes across the province is a disappointing development, which does move us any closer to negotiated agreements," Education Minister Laurel Broten said in an e-mailed statement to QMI Agency, noting the disagreement is between the government and the union.
"Simcoe County District School Board teachers are the employees, the Simcoe County District School Board is the employer and you have the province stepping in saying they're going to impose all sorts of conditions on that contract," North said.
"The way things are unfolding, we don't know what's going to happen Friday, never mind come Dec. 31," he added. "It's very much at the provincial level and with the government being prorogued, it's not helpful."
While ministries continue to function, the government has been shut down since Premier Dalton McGuinty announced his resignation earlier in the fall.
"Our government has carefully weighed the balance of legal strike action and the needs of students and parents to have stability in their schools," Broten said. "These are two competing interests and we need to get the balance right."
Bill 115 has "never been necessary," Bigham said.
The ETFO "has always been very good at getting to the bargaining table and very creative at getting collective agreements reached," she added.
Since Dec. 3, public elementary school teachers have been in a legal strike position and have been operating under work-to-rule conditions that suggest they do the minimum required by their contracts. They have not been required to attend meetings outside regular school hours, including open houses, parent interviews and professional development (PD) sessions.
"It's been very frustrating. She has not heard the message," Bigham said of the education minister.
School buses will not be running to Simcoe County public elementary schools Friday. Child-care centres in some buildings will be open, but only for the children already registered there.
Local teachers will be back in the classrooms Monday, where they will continue work-to-rule.
While Broten can legally force teachers back to work, she said would not interfere with the one-day rotating strikes. She did say, however, that she would step if they lasted any longer or the same board was targeted twice.
To cheers of 'Kill the bill', more than 20 protesters from Barrie Central Collegiate gathered in front of Barrie MPP Rod Jackson's constituency office, Tuesday.
“We’re protesting Bill 115, because it is taking away extracurriculars, as well as taking the rights away from all of the teachers – basically challenging the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said Grade 12 student Madison Plewes.
The 18-year-old on her second Grade 12 lap, said when they found out last Tuesday their extracurricular activities were being cut, they felt let down.
“Central is a family, (but) we don’t feel that anymore,” Plewes said. “Teachers obviously aren’t allowed to talk to us about anything to do with their union, because they could lose their jobs.
“But we are noticing that we are kind of falling apart. It's not the same interactions that we used to have with our teachers, its kind of slowed down a bit. It really isn’t the same,” Plewes said.
“We just want Rod Jackson to understand. We looked at the votes and saw that he had voted yes for Bill 115, and we just wanted to tell him that we want it repealed.
“It is affecting the Grade 12 year. If you look at it from our perspective they are ruining it. They are taking away prom, their taking away any sporting activities, if you were being scouted for university, you can’t do that.
“They (teachers) can’t give us any tutorial help, they used to offer tutoring at lunch in chemistry and math, if you need help now you’re left behind.”
— With files from JT McVeigh, QMI Agency
Will a one-day strike help or hinder the situation?
Make it worse
Drives home a point
Doesn't affect me