Back on the picket line.
Elementary teachers from the Ontario public school system will leave the classrooms for a day of politicial protest Friday, Jan. 11.
Ontario’s public school elementary teachers will walk off the job this Friday, Jan. 11 in a one-day protest against Education Minister Laurel Broten’s imposing of contracts on them.
It will be the second walkout in less than a month by the teachers, education assistants and counsellors upset over the provincial government’s Bill 115 that allowed Broten to impose contracts on all teacher groups not coming to an agreement with their school boards by Dec. 31. The teachers had voted strongly in favour of holding a one-day political protest in addition to the Dec. 13 walkout.
That decision is being followed through despite it being declared illegal under Bill 115. Instead of picketing at their schools, teachers are expected to congregate at Queen’s Park and several cities around the province to give the protest maximum exposure.
In response, the Renfrew County District School Board announced that all of its 24 elementary schools will be closed to students Friday.
The board said it couldn’t keep the schools open and guarantee student safety. “We’re disappointed to learn education opportunities for our students will be disrupted again,” said board chairman David Kaiser.
As of press deadline there was no indication that public high school teachers would follow suit and the board said all secondary schools would be open Friday.
However, it appears they, along with the elementary teachers, will continue to avoid participating in any extra-curricular activities, perhaps even to the end of the 2013-14 school year.
The new contracts, both imposed and negotiated, are retroactive to Sept. 1, 2012 and expire on Aug. 31, 2014 for all teachers in the province.
The elementary teachers’ walkout plans were announced during a meeting of local presidents of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) and the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) in Toronto Wednesday.
The walkouts will not affect Catholic schools.
Not all school board employees had contracts imposed on them. On Jan. 3, Broten announced that 65 locally-negotiated and ratified agreements submitted by Ontario school boards prior to the Dec. 31 deadline, were ratified.
Through an Order-in-Council, on the minister’s advice, the government “implemented” remaining contracts for all boards and unions without ratified and approved collective agreements by the deadline.
There were an estimated 400 of those contracts. The government’s Jan. 3 news release refers to how students were “put first” by introducing “fair and balanced collective agreements.”
Jeff Barber, president of District 28 of the OSSTF, says that’s laughable.
There’s no way they can be called collective agreements because the contracts were imposed, he said. “They pulled out the gun and pulled the trigger,” added Barber, referring to how the Ontario Liberals used the Putting Students First Bill 115, passed in September, to help impose the contracts.
“Ten years of goodwill by this Liberal government have been squandered by the Liberal education minister in 10 months,” said Allison Ryan, local president for the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario.
Not since 1917 have Ontario teachers had contracts forced on them, she added.
“What she’s done (as education minister) is impose a contract. I wouldn’t call it a collective agreement because we didn’t have the opportunity (to collectively bargain) … I don’t know how they’re going to repair this. They said they’re repealing the bill, but they’re repealing it after imposing the agreements.”
The government says Bill 115 “was introduced and passed by a majority of the House to ensure that we could maintain the progress we’ve made in our schools and minimize labour disruption during the extended negotiation period. The Putting Students First Act has now accomplished this goal.”
Following a ratification period for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) for 110 agreements (related to custodial and secretarial staff), the minister says the act will be repealed by the end of January.
CUPE came to a last-minute tentative agreement for its 55,000 education system members with the province prior to the deadline, but made it clear its members are still bitterly opposed to “flawed” Bill 115 that allows for the imposition of contracts.
The government says the new contracts will save the province $250 million in 2012-13 and $540 million in 2013-14. There’s an additional one-time savings of $1.1 billion by eliminating teachers’ banked sick days that would have resulted in payouts to teachers upon retirement.
The imposed contracts, says local ETFO president Ryan, means the salary freeze for teachers amounts to a pay cut of about 1.5 per cent unless they move up the salary grid. The loss of income is attributed to the fact that teachers will be required to take take three professional development days without pay in 2013-14.
Dennis Jenkins is a superintendent with the Renfrew County District School Board, which was among the many boards that didn’t have negotiated agreements in place by Dec. 31.
Jenkins said the board’s teachers “are going to be disappointed,” but having “imposed contracts at least means we have contracts, and the teachers are not in a legal strike position anymore.”
At the same time, teachers could take political action, as they did in 1997 in Renfrew County, when they walked the picket lines without receiving pay. During a legal strike, teachers receive a per-diem from their unions.
Employees of the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board were among those in 65 boards whose negotiated agreements were ratified by the Ontario government Jan. 3.
Political action threatened by local public school teachers could include the continued withdrawal of extracurricular services in the public board’s elementary and secondary schools and a one-day walk-out to hold political protest rallies.
Outgoing premier Dalton McGuinty, in a letter to teachers last week, urged them not to withhold extra-curriculars.
While there is still some hope that that the Renfrew county high school basketball and volleyball seasons and future sports participation can be saved, it might be a long-shot.
The OSSTF has instructed their members on its website and by email not to get involved in voluntary extra-curricular activities.
However, some teachers argue that as the new contract is now in place, the federation can not force its members to opt out of coaching and other involvement in the extra activities and field trips. They maintain it will be an individual decision.
“Members are going to have to think long and hard before they get involved in extra-curricular activities,” said Barber.
“I would be surprised if extracurriculars continue. And that could be for the next one and a half years, or until we’re able to negotiate freely and collectively.”
Ed Oegema, a Renfrew Collegiate Institute teacher who has been extensively involved in extracurriculars during his 25-year career, suggests the Liberal government may be in for a big surprise.
Based on Oegema’s conversations with teachers, he’s convinced extracurriculars won’t return in the short-term.
Recently involved in coaching soccer and football, and taking students to Algonquin Park, he had planned to be the Lanark-Renfrew football league convener next season and to return to the provincial park for a three-day trip. But not now, he says.
Minister Broten’s imposition of contracts before repealing Bill 115 is “a real slap in the face,” says Oegema. “My feeling is that it (extracurricular activity) is not going to be back.”
Pulling extracurricular services is “entirely possible,” says local ETFO president Ryan.
“Gauging by their reaction (to Broten’s announcement), they’re upset and they know that extracurriculars are volunteer and they take time away from their own families.”
The Upper Ottawa Valley Athletic Association website offers both despair and hope for student athletes wanting their winter sports seasons to resume.
In a move reminiscent of the National Hockey League lockout, boys basketball and girls volleyball games in January have been now marked as ‘postponed’ to join those cancelled in mid-December.
However, games starting Feb. 4 are still on the schedule, leading to the hope that the season can be resumed, either with teachers or public volunteers coaching the teams.
The dispute is particularly difficult for the high-flying Arnprior District High School senior boys basketball team, which had been given a good shot at making the provincials this year.
Whether a resolution is likely is expected to become clear after Wednesday’s teacher meetings.
A ban on extracurriculars could also affect such winter sports at ice hockey, curling, and alpine and cross-country skiing, as well as band trips and drama productions.
The wrestling season has started despite the dispute with students registered under the Ontario Wrestling Association.