Public elementary school teachers in Ottawa walked off the job Dec. 12 in protest of Bill 115.
The legislation gives the education minister the power to impose a contract on thousands of workers if unions and school boards can’t reach local agreements before Dec. 31.
Modelled on an agreement the province reached with the unions representing Catholic teachers, the bill freezes wages, ends the banking of sick days and cuts other benefits.
The unions say it strips members of their democratic right to collectively bargain a new contract.
“We have to come up with an agreement that’s essentially the same as the one the Catholic teachers signed or the education minister can make changes. That’s not right,” said Courtney Watson, who was serving as a picket captain outside the Ottawa Carleton District School Board’s office on Greenbank Road.
Aside from the picket lines in Nepean, teachers demonstrated outside of 63 Ottawa elementary schools and the offices of six area MPPs.
Watson, who said she has worked as an occasional teacher at schools across the city, said it isn’t about the dollars and cents.
“It’s important that we protect our right to collective bargaining,” she said.
Watson added the conflict was especially difficult given the fact that Queen’s Park is prorogued.
“It feels like the government is in effect on strike too,” she said.
But while the teacher’s are out on the picket lines, the education minister is being urged by her colleagues to use the tools the legislation affords her.
“I feel obligated as official Opposition critic to remind you of your responsibilities as minister and the tools that you have at your disposal within Bill 115 to re-impose some semblance of order in our schools,” Nepean-Carleton MPP MacLeod wrote in an open letter to Education Minister Laurel Broten.
In a statement released by the Broten’s office, Premier Dalton McGuinty said a legal one-day strike action didn’t warrant government intervention.
“It is worth noting that while students will miss an entire day of class, and teachers will spend one entire day on the picket line and lawyers will spend weeks preparing their case, ETFO (the provincial teacher’s union) leadership have spent less than an hour in the last 10 months at the negotiating table, which I continue to believe is the best place to resolve the issue,” McGuinty said.
Broten has said the provincial government will impose a new contract on thousands of teachers and support staff if their unions don’t negotiate deals by the end of the month, but Ottawa-Carleton Elementary Teachers’ Federation president Peter Giuliani scoffed at the deadline.
“Apparently we all turn into pumpkins on Dec. 31,” he said. “That is a completely artificial deadline.”
Giuliani added a deadline won’t deter teachers’ work action.
Watson said teachers want to keep doing their job, but don’t want to do give up their right to collective bargaining.
“We’d much rather be in the classroom than picketing in December,” she said
With files from Blair Edwards