By Narda Elvidge
For the Confederate
Rotating one-day strikes by elementary school teachers made their way into Grey and Bruce Counties on Wednesday, Dec. 19.
Teachers from Spruce Ridge, Egremont and Normanby Community Schools met at Spruce Ridge where a walkout took to the streets of Durham.
The job action by the Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario, Bluewater Teacher Local is in response to Bill 115, which imposes terms on collective bargaining, limits teachers’ democratic right to strike and forces teachers’ unions to make deals within set time frames.
Picket Captain/Union Steward for Spruce Ridge Community School Tracy Napper-Sharpe said, “This was absolutely a protest against Bill 115 that the government imposed on us. It takes away all democratic rights – all rights to be able to bargain freely, to have any kind of collective agreements. It takes away the whole negotiation bargaining process and this is the first step for them. They are starting with teachers but it’s going to be something that they are going to do to everybody.”
Walking through the streets of Durham, with placards in hand, created a visual element to the walk out. The signs contained messages such as: ‘Stop Bill 115’, ‘Negotiate - Don’t Legislate’ and ‘Respect Teachers Respect Collective Bargaining’.
“We did have groups that went to our MPP in Owen Sound on Wednesday as well as the Huron/Kincardine area MPP and we had groups and other teachers join them as they were done their shifts at their schools,” Ms. Napper-Sharpe said. “We were picketing and making our presence known outside their constituency offices.”
She said that to appeal to the local MPP have not been successful.
“We have written letters. We’ve tried to talk to them and they are not very receptive. I feel that Bill 115 is there and it’s ours to accept it or not. And we’ve decided that we’re not,” she said.
The controversial law required local boards and union groups to negotiate, by Dec. 31, new contracts implementing government-mandated wage freezes and reduced sick day benefits.
Ms. Tracy Napper-Sharpe feels that the public, initially, did not have a clear understanding of the teachers’ issues with Bill 115.
“Initially people thought that it was about wage increases - that it was all about money. What people don’t realize is that when we first started the bargaining process, before Bill 115, and went to the table - we accepted a zero increase,” she said.
She feels that the public’s understanding of Bill 115 has improved and that people were coming to understand that it is not about wages or working conditions, it’s about democracy.
When asked if it would it be a fair statement to say that Bill 115 is an affront to the fundamental rights not only of educators but also of all Ontarians, Tracy Napper-Sharpe said,
“Everybody is at risk,” Ms. Napper-Sharpe says. “If we don’t fight this Bill everybody is at risk because they will do this to everybody, they always make the public accountable for their spending failures. This is the most atrocious thing that they’ve ever tried; to say we don’t even have the right to try and bargain.”
She thought the walkout in Durham made a difference.
“It has people talking and they understand what it’s really about - that it’s not about money at all – it’s about democratic rights,” she said.