Parents scramble as 35,000 Ont. teachers hit picket lines
Published Tuesday, December 18, 2012 7:05AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, December 18, 2012 10:39PM EST
Students and parents in Ontario were left wondering what comes next after a massive day of protest that saw nearly half of Ontario’s teachers walk off the job Tuesday in an ongoing dispute with the province over a contentious anti-strike bill.
Hundreds of thousands of elementary and junior high school students had to stay home as 35,000 teachers hit the picket lines from a number of school boards, including Toronto, Durham, Peel, Waterloo, Greater Essex, Grand Erie and Lambton Kent, as well as the Near North board in central Ontario. That meant close to 350,000 Ontario students were shut out of school during the one-day job action.
In Toronto alone, 14,000 teachers were off the job as part of the protests against Bill 115, a law that will give the province the power to end strikes, impose wage freezes and force unions to accept collective agreements.
While teachers have already agreed to a two-year wage freeze, they say they cannot accept the proposed changes, as it strips them of their collective bargaining rights.
"We love our students, we care about their education and we want to continue doing our job but at the same time our rights need to be respected as well," said Leslie McCollin, a teacher demonstrating in downtown Toronto outside the Ministry of Education.
McCollin was one of hundreds of other teachers demonstrating in Toronto on what’s being called "Super Tuesday." Pickets were in place at most elementary and junior high schools, as well as at the Toronto District School Board offices and the Ministry of Education.
The marching and chanting was halted around 9 a.m., however, for a moment of silence to honour those killed in Friday's mass shooting in Newton, Conn.
Negotiation deadline looms
Teachers are demonstrating ahead of a Dec. 31 deadline set by the Ontario government for local EFTO unions to reach a deal with their boards. If they don't reach an agreement by that time through negotiations, the government will impose a deal that freezes wages and claws back benefits. It would be illegal for teachers to strike in the new year if a deal is imposed.
Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten acknowledged Tuesday that the labour disruption is an inconvenience to parents, but said teachers are in a legal strike position and have the right to execute one-day walkouts.
"I believe Ontarians expect their government to take a balanced approach and in our view, one-day and one-day-only of strike action, on 72 hours of notice, is the right balance," Broten told CTV News.
"Teachers are in a legal strike position and families need certainty. So to families today who have their kids out of school, I know it's a challenging day, an inconvenient day, but I believe Ontarians expect us to find that right balance and we believe one day of strike action and one day only stirkes that balance."
Annie Kidder, of People for Education, said prospects are slim that the parties will reach a resolution by the deadline.
"Neither side seems to have an exit strategy or a way of backing down. The government seems absolutely determined to crack down and get their way and the teachers don't seem to have a graceful way of backing out of this either," Kidder told CTV News Channel from downtown Toronto, where she joined striking teachers.
If the deadline passes, and the government forces its will on teachers without going through the collective bargaining process, it's likely that the "sense of collegiality" in schools will suffer and teachers may be willing to do less unpaid volunteer work, she said.
Outgoing Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty called on teachers Tuesday to get "back to the bargaining table," saying the province has already reached deals with three of the five teachers' federations in the province.
"I think we can do better; we've got to find a way to do better," McGuinty said. "And I want to take a moment to thank moms and dads who are making special arrangements and finding accommodation for their kids during this one-day strike. I also want to encourage our teachers to find a way back to the bargaining table."
Parents scramble to make alternate plans
The one-day walkout meant tens of thousands of parents had to scramble to come up with alternate childcare options or take the day off work. Most daycare centres, located on school property, were open but parents would likely have had to cross picket lines in order to deliver their children to the centre.
As a result, impromptu activities were popping up across Toronto. The Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, MLSE, Second City and a number of local churches were all offering supervised all-day programs for kids.
Further job action is also planned for other boards this week. More than 4,800 teachers with the Bluewater, Algoma, and Halton school boards will be staging a one-day walkout on Wednesday, while teachers with the Thames Valley District School Board, Limestone board, Superior-Greenstone and Upper Canada board will be walking out Thursday.
The province has said it will not interfere in the legal one-day walkouts, so long as the ETFO provides 72 hours’ notice before acting. If the strikes extend beyond a day, however, the government said it has already prepared the necessary legal documents to force teachers back to work.