Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario members hosted a protest Tuesday at Renfrew town hall to express their displeasure with the provincial government’s use of Bill 115. From left are Brian Reid of Arnprior District High School, Amanda Gibbons of Admaston Public School, OSSTF local president Jeff Barber, ETFO first vice-president Kelly Melanson (who also teaches at Rockwood Public School), Lucie Sauvé of Queen Elizabeth Public School and Colleen Mackin of Admaston Public School.
Steve Newman, Renfrew Mercury
Perhaps the cold was appropriate, as local educators turned a cold shoulder to both the frigid weather and the Ontario government Tuesday afternoon.
A protest by Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario members in front of Renfrew town hall was a follow-up to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation protest by about 100 educators last week at MPP John Yakabuski’s Pembroke office.
Numbers weren’t as high this week, but the nearly 50 teachers, from nine schools, had the same message — they aren’t happy about the Ontario government’s use of Bill 115 to impose contracts on about 126,000 education workers and teachers across the province. The law, which was passed in September, was scheduled to be repealed yesterday.
This is like repealing capital punishment after hanging everyone on death row, says Jeff Barber, the Local 28 president of the OSSTF, who attended Tuesday’s protest where the temperature was -18 Celsius.
“The only good news is once the bill is repealed it will help the dust to settle, so we can have a better picture of what our imposed contract will look like,” added Barber.
RCI teacher Adam Noack, who was among those protesting Tuesday, said Bill 115 was a demonstration of disrespect for him as a teacher and an individual.
Teacher Laura Carter of Arnprior District High School walked around with a placard that read: “We’re willing to freeze. Let’s have democracy, please!”
Other placards included: “Negotiate, don’t legislate” and “Respect collective bargaining rights.”
Another ADHS teacher, Tim Waterhouse, said it was important to attend the protest to show the government and the public that it’s not right to take away one’s right to bargain freely for a working contract.
“This is an imposed contract,” he stressed. “This is not a collective agreement.”
In a Monday, Jan. 21 news release, the Liberal government indicated the legislation “achieved its goal of ensuring fair, balanced and responsible collective agreements for teachers and support staff while protecting the gains made in education and reflecting the province’s fiscal reality.”
The bill sparked legal protests in December and plans for a province-wide protest Jan. 11, but the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled that same morning that such a protest would be illegal.
The Jan. 11 protest didn’t happen, but teachers gathered Tuesday, after school hours, to legally express their concerns with Bill 115 and its impact.
While the government said Bill 115 was used to promote goodwill and stability, Kelly Melanson, the ETFO’s local first-vice president, said it has done anything but that.
“We want the public to know that this (protest) is continuing because of the government’s actions,” said Melanson, who also teaches at Rockwood Public School in Pembroke. “The point of today’s (Jan. 22) rally is to make our government aware that we will continue to fight against this bill until it is completely forgotten about.”
Bill 115 opened a very dangerous door, added Melanson.
“We fought for decades for the rights that we have in our agreements. We don’t want any government that’s going to go in, above the law, and change things that have been there in contracts for decades. We want to make sure that this door, that has been opened, is slammed as tight as possible.”
Meanwhile, ETFO and OSSTF are advising their members to refrain from voluntary or extracurricular activities, including certain professional development, student council meetings and sports.
Local ETFO president Allison Ryan, who was out of town on business and unable to attend Tuesday’s protest, still spoke to The Renfrew Mercury.
“Our members are still upset with the fact the government used Bill 115 … We are asking members to think very carefully about what they do. Because (the government) imposed a contract doesn’t mean you can impose goodwill.”
And legal protests are one way to express that displeasure, said Ryan. A Renfrew County bus load of educators will join a protest at Saturday’s Liberal leadership convention in Toronto.
Meanwhile, Barber says teachers remain concerned that what happened to them (with the ministry’s imposition of contracts) could be repeated in other job sectors.
“We’re trying to put an end to Bill 115 and what Bill 115 did,” said Barber.
“The real scary part is: Is there a Bill 116? Is there a Bill 117? How far are they willing to go to achieve their goals? We’ve maintained right from the outset that if everyone can sit down and negotiate, everyone will be that much happier. We’ll end up with a deal that will satisfy both sides.”
Barber says the OSSTF and ETFO also plan to meet with the governing Liberal party’s new leadership team, following this weekend’s leadership convention, while evaluating the teachers’ role in extracurricular activities and other matters.
Tuesday’s protest in Renfrew did not include the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board, whose tentative agreement was among 65 ratified by the Ontario government Dec. 31, 2012.
Another 400 other contracts were implemented by Education Minister Lauren Broten on Jan. 3.
Meanwhile, teachers are saying they very well could withdraw involvement for most extracurricular activities until their current contract ends Aug. 31, 2014.
Tuesday’s protest was attended by teachers, educational assistants and other employees from the Opeongo, RCI, Arnprior and Barry’s Bay high schools and from the elementary public schools at Walter Zadow, Admaston, Queen Elizabeth, Central and McNab.