Elementary school teachers in Perth and elsewhere in Lanark County are taking steps to remove themselves from supervising extra-curricular activities.
The EMC has learned that, following a Sept. 17 meeting of Perth teachers, the cross country team at the Stewart School will be allowed to continue on with its season, since training had already begun, but that other sports teams and clubs will not be opened, as teachers give voice to their displeasure over the passage of Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act of 2012.
Teachers at Glen Tay Public School and The Stewart School will also be taking a hard line on withdrawing from extra-curricular activities.
However, local secondary school teachers won’t be withdrawing from supervising after-class activities just yet, according to a local union boss.
“I don’t know for sure,” said Danny Thomas, teacher president for the local branch of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), during a telephone interview from his Kemptville office on Sept. 17.
While he has not heard any directives from the union’s head office in Toronto, “we don’t have any immediate plans for that (work-to-rule) in the immediate future for here,” though he did note that his teachers temporarily withdrew their after-hours services for 24 hours on Wednesday, Sept. 12, the day after Bill 115 stripped them of their collective bargaining rights and right to strike (for a period of two years) passed Queen’s Park on Sept. 11.
One thing Thomas’ teachers will be doing in the interim though as a visible demonstration of their displeasure over Bill 115 will be to wear black every Tuesday, on the weekly anniversary of the passing of the bill “as a sign of our displeasure” and also as a sign of mourning.
“We’re mourning the loss of our right to strike; mourning the loss of our right to collective bargaining,” said Thomas. “These are fundamental rights,” he said, adding that the legislation will be subject to a court challenge.
The bill passed thanks to Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives teaming up with Dalton McGuinty’s minority Liberals to pass the bill over the objections of Andrea Howrath’s New Democratic Party.
After the Ontario-wide teachers’ strike in the fall of 1997, there was talk amongst Tories at Queens Park of banning teachers strikes by deeming them to be an essential service, like police officers, but neither premiers Mike Harris or Ernie Eves followed through on the idea.
Thomas said he was in a state of “disbelief” that it was a Liberal government – albeit with Tory support – that stripped them of their right to strike.
“A lot of teachers feel bullied,” said Thomas. “We feel picked on.”
Thomas noted that teachers are “fully aware” of the dire financial straits that the province finds itself in at the moment, with a $15-billion deficit, but added that “we proposed a wage freeze” to the McGuinty government, which did not appear to appease them.
“All of this stuff is way too deep,” said Thomas.
Thomas said he considered it a shame that local solutions could be not be found to the problem, and surmised that school boards feel dismayed at the outcome of the vote as well.
“They (school boards) are as upset as we were when the government came along and said, ‘You are not going to negotiate,’” said Thomas.
Terry Simzer, director of communications for the Upper Canada District School Board, noted that the ball is in the union’s court as to what, if any, extra-curricular sports, drama and clubs get cancelled.
“It’s their issue so we won’t get caught up in all that,” said Simzer on Monday. “It’s very early on. It’s very sporadic. (But) they will decide how long this goes on for.”
Simzer noted that the extra-curricular activities are indeed “voluntary.”
According to the OSSTF web site, Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington MPP Randy Hillier (Progressive Conservative) was absent for the Bill 115 vote, while Carleton-Mississippi Mills P.C. MPP Jack MacLaren voted in favour of the bill. Leeds-Grenville Tory MPP Steve Clark also voted yes to the bill.
The OECTA Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) hammered out a deal with the provincial government on July 5. Amber Laberge, communications officer with Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario, said that because of this deal, no English Catholic schools in the region are affected by any threat of work-to-rule action. In a letter to his members dated Sept. 12, OECTA president Kevin O’Dwyer noted that as a result of the July 5 memorandum of understanding, “the school board cannot change the terms and conditions of your collective agreement. Your employer cannot lock you out. And you cannot undertake job actions of any kind.”
Two attempts were made by the EMC to contact Marg Merpaw, head of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario for the Upper Canada District, on Sept. 17 and 18, but she was busy attending meetings in Perth and Kemptville.