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Decision on legality of teachers' protest looms

An Ontario Labour Relations Board hearing on the legality of a planned teachers’ protest on Friday has been raging for more than eight hours without a ruling.

The hearing began at 3 p.m. Thursday.

Premier Dalton McGuinty brought the issue to the Board, seeking to stop what he called the “illegal strike activity” but the union calls it a “political protest” and says it’s permitted under the Charter.

Under Ontario’s labour laws, engaging in illegal strike activity can carry a penalty of up to $2,000 per person and $25,000 for a trade union.

Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) president Sam Hammond said Wednesday the one-day action is a response to Bill 115 and Education Minister Laurel Broten’s “deliberate and provocative choice to wipe out the democratic rights of tens of thousands of educators rather than work towards a respectful solution.”

Members of the ETFO plan to stage a one-day “political protest” on Friday, shutting down all 474 Toronto District School Board elementary and junior high schools. Other public boards have said elementary schools will be closed for the protest day.

Friday Closures:

The Toronto District School Board says its elementary and junior high schools will be closed Friday and all transportation is cancelled.

The Durham District School Board says its elementary schools are scheduled to be closed Friday. However, it says “if the ruling directs the ETFO to attend work and we can be assured we will have adequate supervision, DDSB elementary schools will be open.” It says a decision will be definite by 6 a.m. Friday.

The York Region District School Board says its elementary schools will be closed Friday and all transportation will be cancelled.

Elementary schools in the Halton District School Board will be closed Friday.

Classes will resume Monday.

Planned Protests:

The Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT) plans to hold protests between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Friday in front of the government’s Ministry of Education at Mowat Block, near Bay and Wellesley streets.

Other picket lines will take place at schools as well as at Liberal and Conservative MPP offices, including:

  • Laurel Broten, MPP, 7601 Evans Avenue, Etobicoke
  • Eric Hoskins, MPP, 803 St. Clair Avenue West, Toronto
  • Glen Murray, MPP, 514 Parliament Street, Toronto
  • Kathleen Wynn, MPP, 795 Eglinton Avenue West, Toronto
  • Soo Wong, MPP, 2245 Kennedy Road, Scarborough
  • Toronto District School Board, 5050 Yonge Street, Toronto

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) plans to hold similar protests on Wednesday — plans which could change pending the Labour Board’s decision.

The unions are protesting after the government imposed a two-year contract on public school teachers on Jan. 3. The measure, under Bill 115, makes any protest during the school day illegal, McGuinty said Wednesday.

Broten imposed the contract on teachers whose union locals didn’t reach agreements with school boards by the Dec. 31 deadline.

While the unions describe the action as a political protest, but McGuinty didn’t mince words when outlining his definition of the planned demonstrations.

“To withdraw your services from our kids in our schools during the school day constitutes an illegal strike,” he said.

The threat of a teacher walkout comes just under a month after public elementary teachers staged rolling one-day strikes. Both elementary and secondary school teachers have withdrawn from extracurricular activities.

Broten has promised to repeal Bill 115 as a “sign of good faith.” Public education unions claim the legislation violated their rights to collective bargaining and they’ve filed court challenges.

The province has reached tentative agreements with two education unions — the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU) —and reached deals with 65 of 270 school boards.

Bill 115 passed with the support of the Progressive Conservatives on Sept. 11. The legislation allowed the government to impose the 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 contract was 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 contract expires in August 2014.


[View the story “Your backup plan if teachers hold political protest” on Storify]