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Province and teachers still on the battlefield of Bill 115

McGuinty goes to labour board to head off “illegal strikes”

By James Jackson
and Jordan Ercit
For the Kitchener Post

Uncertainty continues in Ontario’s public elementary and secondary schools today as the province and the teachers’ unions face off.

Members of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO)have said they will hold a one-day walkout today, what they are calling a political protest over Bill 115.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) has announced its members are also planning a one-day walkout for Jan. 16.

But in a press conference Wednesday, Premier Dalton McGuinty vowed to take action against what he’s calling illegal strikes.

“On behalf of parents and students alike, it is our full expectation that teachers will be in school on Friday and every day in keeping with their employment obligations,” he warned.

“Let’s agree to have this matter settled in court, not in our schools,” said McGuinty, in reference to the union challenge of Bill 115.

Teachers who walk off the job in planned illegal strikes face fines of up to $2,000 each, under Ontario law.

The Liberal government had a hearing scheduled with the Ontario Labour Relations Board at 3 p.m. on Thursday.

Local ETFO president Greg Weiler was unavailable for comment before press time, but prior to the one-day rotating strike that hit Waterloo Region in December he said, “When you’re working with politicians, if someone isn’t being negatively impacted in some way, it doesn’t get any results.”

Parents were given 72-hours notice to allow them to make other arrangements ahead of those strikes, but that is not the case this time, as parents and guardians had less than 48 hours to find other arrangements for their kids.

The strike will close all 104 public elementary schools in the region.

Both sides in the dispute have said the other side was not willing to engage in meaningful negotiations.

Education minister Laurel Broten said the teachers union walked away from the table after less than an hour back in February, while Weiler said the union was not invited to any further negotiations after the last meeting in November.

ETFO president Sam Hammond said the union had offered an olive branch to the government and promised to hold off on any action if the government did not use its controversial anti-strike legislation to impose contracts before the Liberals elected the new premier at a convention on Jan. 25.

But Broten announced the imposed contracts on Jan. 4.

In addition to the uncertainty around one-day stirkes, there are still questions about extracurricular activities at both elementary and secondary schools.

In a memo to members posted on its website, the OSSTF wrote that  voluntary or extracurricular activities will not resume.

As of Wednesday, it was unclear if union action would affect the winter sports schedule of the Waterloo County Secondary School Athletics Association.

Darcy Mintz, vice principal of Forest Heights Collegiate Institute and president of WCSSAA, said the association is in the process of collecting information on which schools would attempt to run sports programs, with a revised schedule starting Monday.

There was some optimism from coaches earlier this week that a senior boys basketball league could be formed, but that seemed to fizzle out on Wednesday despite some teams having already practised in the new year.

Mintz said he could not confirm the status of the various WCSAA sports leagues until later this week.

“We’re going to have to wait and see what happens,” he said.

With files from Torstar News

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