School boards challenging high school teacher strikes
Teachers picket at Lo Ellen Park Secondary School in Sudbury on Monday April 27, 2015. (Gino Donato/Postmedia Network)
Three public school boards are challenging the legality of strikes by high school teachers.
The Peel, Durham and Rainbow district school boards will ask the Ontario Labour Relations Board to rule that the withdrawal of teacher services by local bargaining units of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) amounts to an illegal strike.
“We continue to hear ‘Why us?’ from our parents and students — and some of our teachers too,” Peel District School Board chair Janet McDougald said in a statement Tuesday. “Our students deserve to be back in class, like their peers in our neighbouring school boards. We will do everything we can to ensure this happens.”
OSSTF president Paul Elliott said the bargaining units followed all the steps laid out by the Labour Relations Act before taking job action.
“These strikes are about local issues,” Elliott countered. “It’s unfortunate that they’re going down this road. It’s a provocative measure.”
The Kathleen Wynne government passed legislation last year that sets out the process for collective bargaining with teachers and educational workers.
Unions bargain with the provincial government at a “central” table that addresses major monetary issues such as salary.
Separate negotiations proceed simultaneously at the local school board level.
If teachers strike at the local level — as OSSTF has done in Durham, Peel and Sudbury — the job action must flow from local issues.
Elliott said the strikes are about issues local to each district, with Durham and Rainbow boards demanding contract strips around working conditions while Peel has refused to address local issues at all.
McDougald said OSSTF is using the local strike to send a message to the provincial bargaining table, so its actions are illegal.
“This local strike is part of their overall provincial strategy,” McDougald said. “Our teachers need to know, and our parents and students need to know, that there is nothing we can do at our local table to impact class size decisions — nothing.”
OSSTF is in a position to call strikes in four other school boards — Halton, Lakehead, Waterloo and Ottawa-Carleton — and Elliott said those negotiations are not going well either.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) launched its own work-to-rule campaign this week.
ETFO president Sam Hammond specifically criticized the provincial negotiations.
Education Minister Liz Sandals confirmed that ETFO’s “administrative” work-to-rule campaign means teachers aren’t getting professional development in the new sex-ed curriculum or math instruction.
The physical and health education curriculum will be implemented as planned this fall, she said.