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Hamilton public board keeps talking amid threatened teacher walkouts

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

The chair of Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board says contract talks with its elementary teachers union will continue amid threats of a potential province-wide strike over Bill 115.

Tim Simmons said the local negotiations face a Dec. 7 strike deadline but he’s received no indication of a planned walkout.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has promised to give 72 hours notice of any strike.

Simmons said he’s heard the York public board may be the first target and declined to say how a strike may affect Hamilton schools.

“I don’t want to comment on what they’re going to do or what we’re going to have to do at this stage,” he said.

“We’re still talking and we won’t be closing any doors to negotiations until we reach agreements with all of our locals.”

A Nov. 30 letter to parents and guardians from education director John Malloy says the board does “not yet have details about when or how” any strike will occur.

“We will notify our community as soon as we have details,” it states. “We know that this is a challenging time for everyone in our system and we are committed to maintaining positive relationships with our students, parents, staff and broader community.”

ETFO has warned the potential strikes “will affect operations in each public elementary school throughout the province.”

ETFO president Sam Hammond blamed Bill 115, which he said strips fundamental bargaining rights and gives the provincial government “unprecedented power” to impose contracts.

The bill sets out a framework for contract settlements that includes a two-year wage freeze, an end to retirement payouts for up to six months of unused sick days and a cut in annual sick days to 10 from 20.

It bans strike action for two years, a prohibition that kicks in after a Dec. 31 deadline for teachers to reach a deal before one is imposed on them.

But the legislation also gives Education Minister Laurel Broten the power to stop any dispute before then and she has warned teachers she will  order them back to work.

The showdown comes as the Hamilton board’s high school teachers voted on Friday to reject a tentative agreement reached on Nov. 18.

While Broten has accepted the deal as consistent with Bill 115, similar tentative agreements have been turned down at the Niagara and York public boards. But teachers at the Upper Grand board did ratify their deal.

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