By Charlotte Prong Parkhill
Kitchener Post staff
Students at the region’s 104 public elementary schools had the day off Tuesday as teachers staged a one-day strike to protest Bill 115.
About 3,400 permanent and occasional teachers along with early childhood educators from the Waterloo Region District School Board picketed at major intersections throughout the region.
“We all wish it was a different situation, and the goal of this is to get the government to restart a meaningful process and not just say it’s a dispute about pay and oversimplify it,” said Greg Weiler, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) local.
The one-day strikes, staged at boards across the province, are in addition to a withdrawal of extracurricular activities by ETFO and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.
Weiler said local elementary teachers will not be running after-school activities, leading field trips or performing certain administrative duties, and there is not definite end date to that aspect of the job action.
Funworx at Bingemans and TheMuseum offered daycamps on Tuesday.
David Marskell, CEO of TheMuseum, said they had quite a few registrations and ended up with about 60 to 70 students for the day.
“For some parents, they don’t have a lot of options.”
For other parents, the strike wasn’t much of an inconvenience. Marvin Droese has five children but his wife doesn’t work outside the home.
The three youngest, who attend Doon, Brigadoon and Pioneer Park public schools, stayed home for the day.
He said the older kids, students at Huron Heights Secondary School, haven’t been very affected by the lack of extracurricular activities. One of them still attends informal club meetings, held without a staff member.
“I think (the teachers) should get over it. I’m self-employed, without a union,” Droese said.
“The union drives me crazy.”
But teachers picketing at Ottawa and Weber streets on Tuesday did so against a steady backdrop of drivers honking in support.
The deadline to have contracts signed is Dec. 31. As of Jan. 1, Bill 115 gives the government the authority to impose contracts, though education minister Laurel Broten has not indicated that will happen right away.
“After Dec. 31, the ability to negotiate collective agreements expires. At that point, we’d look to the tools in the legislation,” she told the Toronto Star.
The labour strife here is now unfolding against the backdrop of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut last week, where 20 Grade 1 students and six school staff were killed.
“That’s on everybody’s mind as well,” Weiler said.
Picket shifts started with Oh Canada and a moment of silence for the victims.
“If this was simply an issue about pay, nobody would be taking a day off work. Nobody would be protesting,” Weiler said.
Bill 115 hasn’t created an additional pot of money for the government to spend on education, he said. The question is how the government will protect gains in education, such as full-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes, if the economy doesn’t turn around.
“They’re not going to be able to turn around and pay for everything on the backs of teachers, so what will be next?” he said.
“It usually happens to us first, and then whatever the thing is that we’re trying to protect, that comes next.”