Jeff Heuchert, Gazette staff
Public elementary school teachers in Stratford and area participated in a planned one-day strike on Monday to protest legislation that, among other things, restricts their ability to do just that.
Teachers with the Avon Maitland District School Board (AMDSB) converged at several locations across the two counties to march and wave sings that read, “Respect Teachers, Respect Collective Bargaining” – referencing to the other key component of the Liberals’ Bill 115, imposing new contracts on teachers.
They were joined by colleagues from a Timmins-area board in what were the first of a series of rotating one-day walkouts planned for across the province by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), continuing in Niagara and Keewatin-Patricia Wednesday and moving to the York Region on Thursday.
Local teachers protesting outside of Stratford Central and MPP Randy Pettapiece’s office would not speak with media and deferred comment to ETFO Avon Maitland local president Merlin Leis.
Having visited the various picket locations, Leis said late Monday the mood among striking teachers was upbeat.
“I think that our members came around to considering it an honour to show the province the way, so to speak, that teachers are going to show their displeasure with the heavy-handedness being shown by the government.”
Premier Dalton McGuinty, in a statement distributed to media outlets Monday, said it was regrettable the ETFO had decided to disrupt nine years of labour peace over a disagreement about pay.
Leis said categorizing the dispute as a disagreement about pay is entirely inaccurate.
“We have not been averse to a two-year wage freeze,” he said. “I think it’s something that members have been expecting.”
Instead, he added, it’s the clauses within Bill 115 – approved by the minority legislature in September – limiting collective bargaining rights which have created the stalemate.
And it’s a stalemate that threatens to move to a new level once an education ministry-imposed deadline of Dec. 31 passes. At that time, Bill 115 gives education minister Laurel Broten the authority to impose contracts on all education sector labour groups.
All Avon Maitland elementary schools were closed on Monday as a result of the strike, including Grade 7-8 programs at Avon Maitland secondary schools.
The EFTO has said it will give 72 hours notice before any strike. The AMDSB’s began notifying parents late last Wednesday, and notices were sent home with kids the next day.
The walkout impacted 40 schools and over 10,000 students.
“We are making every effort to provide you with sufficient notice to make whatever alternate day care arrangements you will need to make for your children,” read a statement on the Avon Maitland board website.
The City of Stratford stepped in to help families in a pinch by holding a day camp, and third-party daycare providers in the schools tried to bring in extra staff, as well.
“We hope for as little disruption as possible,” said director of education, Ted Doherty, in a video message on the board’s website. “We want to have school; that’s what everyone wants.”
Kids were back in class on Tuesday, but other ETFO job sanctions remain in place, which could result in the cancellation or postponement of other events or activities.
As for Ontario’s secondary school teachers, they have said they do not intend to strike, but instead have begun work-to-rule campaigns – staying in school only during regular hours and not participating in extra-curricular activities.
They have said extra-curriculars will not come back until Bill 115 is repealed.
– With files from St. Marys Journal Argus