Ontario elementary teachers staging one-day protest Friday
Teachers protesting Bill 115. (QMI Agency file photo)
You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
As teachers gear up for another walkout on Friday and parents scramble to find last-minute child care, union leaders caution their political protests are just beginning.
“This is a preamble. This probably won’t be the last political action,” said Phillip Mack, president of the Thames Valley local of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario that represents 3,200 teachers with the Thames Valley District school board.
All elementary schools across the province will be closed Friday after the elementary teachers’ union on Wednesday announced a one-day political protest.
That left local school boards rushing to get notices out to parents who have to find somewhere to put their kids on Friday.
The move by teachers triggered a quick response by Premier Dalton McGuinty.
He vowed his government will go to the Ontario Labour Relations Board before Friday to demand the day of protest be declared an illegal strike because a collective agreement is in place.
“I know teachers are law-abiding; I know they don’t want to break the law,” McGuinty said. “And I’m urging them not to.”
He said teachers upset with Bill 115 can take out their frustrations in court, or hold protests outside of school hours.
Teachers would be sending the wrong message to students if they participated in illegal job actions, he said.
“We count on (teachers) to set a good example. I know that weighs heavily on them.”
Bill Tucker, director of education at the Thames Valley board that serves kids in London and Elgin, Middlesex and Oxford counties, said parents aren’t happy schools will be closed Friday.
The board’s elementary schools also were closed Dec. 20 when Thames Valley teachers took part in a one-day strike.
“From a programming point of view, there’s no significant loss that we can’t make up,” Tucker said.
“What I’m concerned about is the big-picture loss for our students. I’m disappointed that we’re here. The school experience is more than the instructional aspect.”
Already kids have had to do without sports, clubs and other after-school activities that teachers normally volunteer for.
There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for the fight between teachers and the province.
Friday’s one-day walkout comes a week after education minister Laurel Broten used Bill 115 to impose contracts on public high school and elementary school teachers in the province.
The contract freezes wages, cuts sick days, limits wage-grid movement and gets rid of bankable sick days.
It also makes strikes illegal, though the elementary teachers’ federation says the Friday walkout isn’t a strike but rather a political protest.
“It’s a walkout, much like we did in 1997,” said Mack, referring to a two-week political protest that shut down the province’s schools in protest of another bill.
“It’s a walkout to protest in favour of our democratic rights. We are protesting against the government and not against our employer, the school board.”
Members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation have also voted in favour of a one-day political protest.
Leaders of the OSSTF met Wednesday to decide what its members will do to protest the imposed contracts, but were mum about the outcome of their discussions.
Health Minister Deb Matthews said teachers should follow the lead of the province’s doctors, who negotiated a deal with the government intent on reining in a $14.8-billion deficit.
“Teachers do a great job of giving our kids the best start possible, but it’s wrong to put students in the middle of this dispute. Determination and hard work have led to agreements with all our other public-sector partners — I’ve seen it first-hand with doctors. ”
Students across the province have already been without extra-curricular activities for months. Earlier this week, OSSTF advised its members to not resume participating in voluntary activities like clubs, sports and concerts.
The same goes for elementary teachers, who haven’t been participating in after school activities since September.
When Broten imposed the contract and then promised to repeal Bill 115, she said she hoped teachers would go back to providing teams and clubs students haven’t had for most of the school year.
Instead, her move angered teachers further.
Pickets on Friday will be set up at the education centre on Dundas St. near Highbury Ave. as well as highly visible locations around London and surrounding municipalities, Mack said.
“We’ve said all along to the minister, ‘You can impose agreements but it’s not going to stop our protest,’ ” he said. “We would go to protest in Toronto (at the legislature) but there’s nobody there.”
The teachers’ union wanted the minister to wait to impose contracts until a new Liberal leader — and premier — was chosen Jan. 26.
The minister rejected the union’s “olive branch,” provincial union leaders said in a written statement.
- with files from QMI
WHERE CAN YOU GO?
London: The city is offering day camps for students at Carling Heights Optimist Community Centre from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cost is $21 and preregistration is required. Parents can register by calling 519-661-5575. Additional hours are available.
The Children’s Museum: Running full-day camp for up to 40 children from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with activities planned for children ages three to 12. Cost is $28 for members and $32 for non-members. Preregistration is required. Parents can register by calling 519-434-5726 or visiting the museum between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
YMCA: All of the YMCA’s Western Ontario branches offer supervised recreation programs for children. Cost is $20 for members and $25 for non-members. Preregistration is required. For a list of YMCA locations and hours visit www.ymcawo.ca
The Boys’ and Girls’ Club: Holding day camps for pupils ages five to 13 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cost is $35 for members and $40 for non-members. Preregistration is required. Parents can register by calling 519-434-9114.
Circle-R Ranch: Offering day program for children that includes lunch and indoor and outdoor activities from 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Cost is $50. Preregistration is required. Parents can register by calling 519-471-3799.
PARENTS: Thames Valley District school board officials ask that parents monitor the board website because the situation is constantly changing. Any new information will be posted on tvdsb.on.ca as quickly as possible.
ETFO NEWS RELEASE:
Public elementary teachers to stage one-day protest this Friday
Political protest against Bill 115 supported overwhelmingly by majority of ETFO members
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 9, 2013
(TORONTO, ON) – Based on a solid majority vote taken in December, ETFO teachers, designated early childhood educators (DECEs), professional support personnel (PSP), and education support personnel (ESP) across Ontario will stage a one-day political protest this Friday aimed at the government and education minister for invoking Bill 115.
“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,” said Sam Hammond, President of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO). ”She could have taken our olive branch and waited for a new leader to try and find solutions, but she chose not to.”
“Our members are standing up to say that democratic values must trump party politics in this province. 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.”
Ninety-two percent (92%) of over 46,000 members who cast a ballot in December voted in favour of a one-day political protest should the minister impose contracts using Bill 115. She did so on January 3rd.
“This protest is aimed squarely at the government and education minister, not those school boards who pursued legal collective bargaining with our locals. It is shameful that the minister tied their hands with the limiting parameters of Bill 115. The government can prorogue the legislature but it can’t prorogue democracy.”
“It is disingenuous for Minister Broten to say that the government has not been able to communicate with the rank and file members of our Federation,” added Hammond. “Our members have heard her, and have responded – not just with the one-day protest vote. They spoke with huge majorities in two other votes to protest Bill 115 when it was enacted last fall.”
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario represents 76,000 elementary public school teachers and education professionals across the province and is the largest teacher federation in Canada.