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Broten imposes contract on teachers under Bill 115

Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten announcing imposed contracts on public school teachers, Jan. 3, 2012. CITYNEWS

Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten imposed a two-year contract on 126,000 public school teachers Thursday under Bill 115 — a move critics described as a “frightening” and “unprecedented” use of power.

Teachers in boards that weren’t able to reach agreements with their unions before the Dec. 31 bargaining deadline — 205 of 270 boards — now have a two-year contract imposed on them.

“My message as minister of education to union leadership and to teachers is: I hope union leadership will not ask their teachers to undertake illegal strike activity,” Broten said.

“And to teachers, again, is that with agreements in place, we do not have a legal strike position and any strike action is illegal activity.”

The implementation of Bill 115 brought swift and sharp reaction. Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), called the move “unprecedented” and a “disgraceful misuse of government power.”

“Ten years … of goodwill has been squandered in just under 10 months by this education minister,” he said.

“You cannot legislate goodwill.”

NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo described Broten’s move to implement contracts as “frightening.”

“It’s a very frightening direction,” she said. “The idea now that you can repeal [Bill 115] after using it and invoking it is terribly cynical politics.”

Broten said “rhetoric and advertising” have turned Bill 115 into a “lightning rod.”

In what she described as a “sign of good faith” and a “commitment to future negotiations,” she’ll move to have the bill repealed once all contracts are in place.

“The Putting Students First Act (Bill 115) has achieved what it was created to do, which is put Ontario’s public schools on a more sustainable financial footing while preserving the gains we’ve made in education,” she said.

Public elementary and secondary teachers have withdrawn from extracurricular activities to protest the legislation and elementary teachers held rolling one-day walkouts last month. Public education unions claim Bill 115 violates their collective bargaining rights and they’ve filed court challenges.

“We are very, very hopeful that we will see the return of extracurricular activities once school starts on Jan. 7,” Broten said Thursday.

Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) president Ken Coran told CityNews that he’ll let his members decide whether they want to resume extracurricular activities.

Bill 115 passed with the support of the Progressive Conservatives on Sept. 11. The legislation allows the government to impose a two-year contract on teachers that includes a wage freeze, 10 sick days — down from 20 — and grandfathering out the practice of banking unused sick days. The deal is based on an agreement with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) and Ontario’s French teachers.

Most controversially, Bill 115 gives Broten the power to end job action without debate in the legislature.

The government-imposed contracts expire in August 2014.

Last month, the ETFO and OSSTF warned they’ll hold a one-day political protest if the government imposes a contract on their members. Specific details of that demonstration aren’t yet known.

On Monday, OSSTF president Ken Coran said the leaders of all his union locals will meet in Toronto on Jan. 9 to “revisit strategies … and the support of the membership.”

Last week, Broten announced deals had been reached with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents about 55,000 school support workers, including educational assistants, custodians, librarians and secretaries. The union has until Jan. 14 to ratify those 110 tentative agreements. Sixty-five agreements with boards have also been ratified and approved by the government.

The provincial government says Bill 115 will save Ontario $250 million in 2012-13, growing to a total of $540 million in 2013-14.