Teachers told walkout will be called illegal strike
Lesley Prestwich picks up her two sons, Matthew and Ryan, from Assikinack Public School, Wednesday, in Barrie. Lesley like many parents isn’t happy about the job action planned by teachers, Friday. (Mark Wanzel Photo)
Elementary teachers who planned a one-day protest against the implementation of Bill 115 have been told it will be considered an illegal strike action if they don’t show up for work, Friday.
Premier Dalton McGuinty announced shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday, that once Bill 115 came into effect January 1, the teachers’ right to strike — or hold a political protest during school hours — became illegal.
“They were allowed to protest before Bill 115 went into effect,” McGuinty told the news conference, “But afterward it will be considered an illegal strike action, and teachers don’t want to break the law. And it’s not something parents and children should be put through again.”
However, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said its members are protesting the government’s use of force to pound Bill 115 through the hearts of collective agreements across the province.
“It’s in response to the minister who evoked her powers in Bill 115 and imposed a new contract upon us which deemed strike action illegal,” said Simcoe County ETFO president Janet Bigham of the protest.
Bigham said a strike action vote taken in December showed 92% of 46,0000 Ontario teachers favoured strike action and walk-outs to draw attention to their disgust with the minister’s decision to go through with Bill 115.
It calls for a two-year moratorium on collective bargaining, demands wage freezes, changes to benefits and dropping sick-day banking for all Ontario teachers.
The ministry of education estimates the new contracts will save the province $250 million in 2012-2013 and grow to $540 million in 2013-2014. This is in addition to one-time savings of $1.1 billion with the elimination of banked sick days.
After the bill came into play, Education Minister Laurel Broten announced she will now repeal it.
“She used a hammer to implement it and then threw the hammer away,” said Bigham.
However, with the threat of political action on Friday, Bill 115 stands as the current law of the province, thereby making walk-outs, or protests during school hours illegal.
It is unclear what penalties teachers would face if they proceed with their protest Friday. McGuinty indicated at the press conference he would be speaking with the Ontario Labour Relations Board to discuss possible repercussions.
“It is unfortunate that public schools across Ontario are facing this illegal strike,” said Debbie Clarke of the Simcoe County District School Board. “We’re concerned and disappointed with this disruption of services for students and their families.”
Clarke said as soon as the board heard of ETFO’s plan of protest action for Friday, they sent letters home to families Wednesday afternoon.
“We will keep our website current with any updates as they become available,” she said.
Provincial president of the ETFO, Sam Hammond, said in a press release that he would rather have worked out a peaceful solution.
“The minister made a deliberate and provocative choice to wipe out the democratic rights of tens of thousands of educators rather than work towards a respectful solution,” Hammond said. “She could have taken our olive branch and waited for a new leader to try and find solutions, but she chose not to.
“What happened to educators must not happen to any other Ontarian. The stain of Bill 115, enacted four months ago this Friday, serves as a permanent reminder of that.”
Contracts were signed by 65 unions; only two, the ETFO and Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, did not have a contract in place at the end of 2012.
Parents of students in local elementary schools are frustrated by the teachers’ choice to walk-out Friday, after having just demonstrated on picket lines Dec. 14.
“I don’t know how teachers can get away with it again. It sure leaves us scrambling,” said Chad Nicolle.
With three children attending Assikinack Public School in Barrie, Nicolle said without extracurricular activities for the children and a professional development day already planned for Jan. 25, parents are taking on the bulk of the burden for the teachers’ cause.
Fellow Assikinack parent and former parent council member, Lesley Prestwich, said she’s equally frustrated by the current teacher situation.
“I don’t think I know enough about either side of the problem, but I don’t think it matters who’s at fault,” said Prestwich. “If you became a teacher because you want to work with children, you should be fighting for the children, instead of taking your time away from them.”
Prestwich’s beef about lost extracurriculars and work-to-rule mandate isn’t lost on Bigham.
However, she she still believes many parents still support the teacher’s right to negotiate their own contracts.
Bigham said December’s one-day protest saw a flurry of support from parents who dropped off food and coffee for the picketing teachers, as well as the many who honked in support as they drove by.
An Ontario Federation of Labour protest rally is planned for Jan. 26 in Toronto, and Bigham said the ETFO will be attending.
In the event of a walk-out Friday, full day camps are being offered at the Allandale Recreation Centre and Holly Community Centre for children aged five to 12 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for $30 for Barrie residents and $34 for non-residents. Visit www.barrie.ca for more information.