SCDSB teachers to strike for one day Friday
QMI AGENCY FILE
Public elementary-school teachers across Simcoe County will be staging a one-day strike Friday in response to Bill 115.
“Our goal is to send a message to the minister of education that Bill 115 has to be repealed,” said Janet Bigham, president of the Simcoe County Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, which represents Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) teachers and early-childhood educators.
The local Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) bargaining unit is not alone. Teachers in the Avon Maitland area (north of London) and the Ontario North East District School Board, which includes Temagami, Timmins and Hearst, walked out Monday, while those in the Niagara Region protested Tuesday.
SCDSB, like other boards in the province, will be closing its elementary schools Friday.
“It’s disappointing that, after many years of labour peace, we’ve come to this point,” said SCDSB chair Robert North.
When there have been strikes and lockouts in the past, school boards and local bargaining units have had more control.
“Now, the province is calling the vast majority of the shots and leaving us with very little wiggle room to negotiate with our own bargaining groups,” said North, who, like Bigham, is frustrated Bill 115 — the Putting Students First Act — is impeding local bargaining efforts.
The legislation was brought in after public-school teachers refused to accept the same new contract with cuts to wages and sick benefits that Catholic school teachers agreed to when their contracts expired in the summer. They were given until Dec. 31 to reach new ones.
“The decision of the ETFO to move forward with one-day rotating strikes across the province is a disappointing development, which doesn’t move us any closer to negotiated agreements,” Education Minister Laurel Broten said in an emailed statement to The Packet & Times, noting the disagreement is between the government and the union.
North said he was unsure how this standoff will end.
“Simcoe County District School Board teachers are the employees, the Simcoe County District School Board is the employer and you have the province stepping in saying they’re going to impose all sorts of conditions on that contract,” North said. “The way things are unfolding, we don’t know what’s going to happen Friday, never mind come Dec. 31.
“It’s very much at the provincial level and with the government being prorogued, it’s not helpful.”
While ministries continue to function, the government has been shut down since the premier stepped down earlier in the fall.
“Our government has carefully weighed the balance of legal strike action and the needs of students and parents to have stability in their schools. These are two competing interests and we need to get the balance right,” Broten said.
Bill 115 has “never been necessary,” said Bigham.
“ETFO has always been very good at getting to the bargaining table and very creative at getting collective agreements reached,” she said.
Since Dec. 3, public elementary school teachers have been in a legal strike position and have been operating under work-to-rule conditions that suggest they do the minimum required by their contracts. They have not been required to attend meetings outside of regular school hours, including open houses, parent interviews and professional-development sessions.
“It’s been very frustrating. She has not heard the message,” Bigham said of Broten.
School buses will not be running to SCDSB elementary schools Friday. Child-care centres in the buildings will be open, but only for the children already registered there.
SCDSB teachers will be back in the classrooms Monday, when they will continue work-to-rule.
While Broten can legally force teachers back to work, she said she would not interfere with the one-day rotating strikes. She did, however, say she would step in if they lasted any longer or the same board was targeted twice.
— With files from QMI Agency
Friday day camp
The City of Orillia will be holding a special one-day-only day camp Friday between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at Rotary Place in response to the strike. The cost is $22.50 per child. Extended care is available between 8 and 9 a.m. and 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. for an extra $5.
For more information, visit orillia.ca or call the city at 705-329-7250.