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McGuinty government calls one-day teacher protest 'illegal'

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says a planned protest by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) on Friday is “illegal” and his government is submitting an application to the Ontario Labour Relations Board to prevent it.

The ETFO announced on Wednesday public elementary school teachers in Ontario would hold the one-day political protest, but stressed it would not be a strike.

“We are all frustrated. We have no choice yet again,” ETFO president Sam Hammond said Wednesday.

“On Dec. 21st, I gave this government a very clear, reasonable option for all of us to take a step back. This government, this minister of education refused to take us up on that and went ahead with the very disgraceful use of government power.

“This government … has asked, demanded and imposed more on my 76,000 members than any other union in this province.”

Reacting to news of the protest first reported by CityNews, Education Minister Laurel Broten urged teachers to not break the law. She also encouraged them to look at the terms of the imposed contracts, which she said are “fair.”

On Wednesday evening, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) announced that public high school teachers across Ontario would hold a day of “political protest” on Jan. 16. The protest will include picket lines at schools as well as at Liberal and Tory MPP offices.

Ken Coran, president of the OSSTF, said: “It is regrettable that the provincial government has chosen to continue down this path and not respect the rights of education workers.”

The decision came after the union representing Ontario’s public high school teachers met Wednesday to discuss its next moves after the provincial government used Bill 115 to impose contracts.

The meeting was scheduled before Broten announced the controversial move on Jan. 3.

Coran said he met with union locals Wednesday morning, and then planned to meet with the union executive.

Hammond said the one-day action is allowed under the Charter and is based on the minister’s “deliberate and provocative choice to wipe out the democratic rights of tens of thousands of educators rather than work towards a respectful solution.”

More information about protest locations and times will be sent to members on Thursday. The union also said that 92 per cent of 46,000 members who cast a ballot in December voted in favour of a one-day political protest if the minister imposed contracts.

Last month, public elementary teachers across the province, including in Toronto, held rolling one-day walkouts to protest Bill 115.

Broten used her powers under Bill 115 to force a two-year contract on public elementary and secondary school teachers whose union locals failed to reach agreements with school boards by the Dec. 31 deadline.

While strike action is now illegal, teachers have continued their boycott of extracurricular activities. The OSSTF is leaving it up to individual members to decide if they want to participate.

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

And in what she described as a “sign of good faith” and a “commitment to future negotiations,” she promised to repeal the bill once all contracts are in place.

Public education unions claim Bill 115 violates their collective bargaining rights and they’ve filed court challenges.

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.