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Strike action brings sports and activities to a halt in high schools

By Lisa Rutledge
For the Post

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation announced Monday its members would stop all high school extracurricular activities and sports beginning Dec. 10.

On Tuesday, the Waterloo Region District School Board announced that those activities will be cancelled for the rest of the month.

The job action comes as a response to Bill 115, provincial legislation that teachers say strips them of their right to collectively bargain.

Local public school elementary teachers could be in a position to strike as early as Dec. 17, but the teachers’ union vows to give parents 72 hours’ notice of any planned job action.

The latest move was sparked after talks between local representatives of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario and the Waterloo Region District School Board ended Nov. 23.

The groups were meeting with a Labour Relations Board conciliation officer appointed by the provincial government to oversee collective bargaining. But the meeting was almost over before it began.

“It took all of about five minutes,” said Greg Weiler, local president of the teachers’ federation.

“It was a brief encounter,” agreed Mark Schinkel, executive superintendent of human resources at WRDSB and  representative in bargaining.

Weiler described the relationship between the union and the board as good, but likened the last meeting to a formality because Bill 115 leaves little room for meaningful negotiation.

The bill directs school boards and local teachers’ unions to adopt a contract almost identical to one reached with the English Catholic teachers last summer as part of an overall bid to save the government billions in spending.

With talks stalling, Weiler said local elementary teachers will be in a position to commence formal strike action.

While that action could include teachers refusing to volunteer for extra-curricular activities or do administration duties, there could ultimately be full-scale walkouts by teachers.

But he cautioned that no action will be kicking in soon.

“Locally, there’s nothing happening for at least a couple of weeks.”

If teachers begin any kind of strike action, the timing will be more favourable to local students. Within days of any strike campaign action, students will be off on Christmas holidays.

Other school districts, including York and Ottawa, are already engaged in strike action because their negotiations broke off earlier.

For now, the teachers’ union and board representatives are taking a wait-and-see stance at how things play out in other boards. Schinkel said the board is developing contingency plans based on what happens elsewhere.

The local Catholic board reached a contract in the summer and it’s “business as usual,” said a spokesperson.

Locally, some clubs, field trips and holiday concerts have been cancelled as a result of the teacher dispute.

Schinkel advises parents to monitor regular updates on the school board’s website under the Labour Relations Update link and to consider the fact that negotiations between teachers and their boards are at different stages in other jurisdictions.

“It’s quite uneven across the province,” he said.

Teachers in the Avon Maitland board entered a legal strike position Monday and began job sanctions that include withdrawing from administrative duties and not participating in parent-teacher interviews after hours.

With files from Doug Coxson

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