By Francis Baker
For the Confederate
Striking elementary public school teachers were highly visible in downtown Fergus Friday morning, as dozens picketed in front of Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott’s office in downtown Fergus.
Members of the Upper Grand’s Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario district held a one-day strike Friday to protest the provincial government’s Bill 115 – one of a series of one-day walkouts across the province as teachers protest the bill’s measures.
Local ETFO President Doug Cook said 1,200 elementary school teachers with the Upper Grand District School Board were expected to picket at one of three area MPP offices, including Arnott’s, Liberal Liz Sandals in Guelph, and PC Sylvia Jones’s office in Orangeville.
Teachers were not intending to picket at schools or the school board office.
Mr. Cook hoped as many as 300 teachers would show up at Arnott’s office on St. Andrew Street West.
The large group of picketers at one point stretched from the corner of Gowrie Street back to the Tim Hortons parking lot – another group were on the St. David Street corner for visibility.
“We’re pretty upset with Bill 115,” Mr. Cook said. “It’s put the kybosh on local bargaining for us.”
Calling the bill’s measures a “massive intrusion” into local bargaining and saying it stifles the ability of local groups to come up with creative solutions to labour issues, Cook said the province needs a new response to the situation.
Instead of worrying about the length of time teachers can be out on picket lines, the education minister needs to work with teachers to come up with a solution to labour issues.
“Our local labour relations have been very positive,” he said. “We’d like nothing better than to freely negotiate with our employer.”
Education Minister Laurel Broten allowed teachers a one-day walkout provided they gave parents three days notice, recognizing the inconvenience for families having to find day care and other solutions to take care of children unexpectedly off school.
Bill 115 gives the government the power to impose contracts on teachers who don’t negotiate contracts that meet the government’s requirements, and takes away teachers’ rights to strike – a measure the government says it will enforce after the end of the year.
But the current round of one-day strikes didn’t warrant government intervention, Premier Dalton McGuinty has said.
The Upper Grand District School Board sent out a media release about Friday’s walkout on Dec. 11, stating letters had been sent home with parents advising them of the situation. School answering machine messages were changed and school websites noted the walk-out as the top item on home pages, with links to more information.
Plans were in place to deal with elementary school children who inadvertently got on a school bus, as local buses often pick up for various school boards. Contingency plans were in place in case students arrived at schools that were closed for the day.