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Elementary teachers' union threatens strikes in December

Teachers protested wage freeze legislation at Queen's Park on Aug. 28, 2012. CITYNEWS/Galit Solomon.

The union representing elementary teachers across Ontario is threatening to begin “removing our members from their classrooms and work sites,” as early as next week.

Speaking live on CityNews Channel, Sam Hammond, President of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said talks with the province are at a standstill and the next move is to hit the picket lines starting in December.

Hammond said the union would give parents 72 hours notice “to ensure the safety of students,” before any strike action was taken.

Teachers across the province have been protesting Bill 115, also called the Putting Students First Act, which imposed a two-year contract on educators that includes a wage freeze, reduced sick days and bans on strikes and lockouts.

Education Minister Laurel Broten’s office outlined action that could be taken in the event of a teacher strike.

“We could bring forward an order-in-council to prohibit the specific action which is causing student safety to be compromised.”

Broten released her own statement on Wednesday: “I am disappointed to hear that ETFO will be moving ahead with strike actions. Disrupting learning time for students is not in the best interest of students,” she said.

“I will monitor strike actions very closely.  The government does have tools to address these actions and we will explore those options if required.”

“I encourage ETFO to negotiate instead of resorting to strike action.”

But Hammond argues that Bill 115 removes ETFO’s ability to negotiate and said the threat of strikes at school boards across Ontario is a last resort.  He called Bill 115 an “attack on the free collective bargaining process.”

“We are now at a point because of Bill 115, that we are going to move forward and exercise all of our rights under the Ontario Labour Relations Act.”

“We are not going to stand by and allow our democratic right and collective agreements…to be attacked in this way.”

Elementary teachers and education professionals in four school boards are already engaged in work-to-rule job action.

Teachers in all other boards will also be in a strike position during December, Hammond said.

Ontario PC Education Critic, Lisa MacLeod, said Broten should do whatever is in her power to prevent teacher strikes.

“ETFO’s 72 hour strike notice is unacceptable. The Education Minister was given power to prevent strikes in our schools and must now use it.”