Union leaders representing Hamilton’s public school teachers are denouncing the province’s decision to act on a threat to impose two-year contracts and vowing to keep up the political battle over Bill 115.
Chantal Mancini, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation of Hamilton-Wentworth, said she will be meeting with her provincial counterparts on Jan. 9 to discuss their response to the move.
Among the topics will be whether high school teachers should continue a boycott of sports and other extracurricular activities that began on Dec. 10.
“Until we have that discussion, I don’t really have an answer for you to where we move going forward. There’s still going to be the political aspects, obviously,” Mancini said.
“It’s disgusting that the government would impose contracts and take away individual bargaining rights.”
Education Minister Laurel Broten told a Jan. 3 Queen’s Park press conference the ongoing impasse over her government’s demand for a two-year wage freeze and cuts to sick benefits left “no other reasonable option” than to impose contracts.
She had given teacher unions until Dec. 31 to reach agreements consistent with Bill 115’s provisions, which she called “balanced and fair” and necessary to meet a goal of saving $2 billion as part of efforts to rein in a $14 billion provincial deficit.
But Broten also acknowledged the legislation had become a “lightening rod” for teacher anger and said provincial cabinet will repeal it by the end of this month.
“It is my hope that we’ll see extracurricular activities return to the schools,” she said.
Lisa Hammond, president of the Hamilton-Wentworth Elementary Teachers’ Local, called repealing Bill 115 after the fact a “pretty astonishing” cynical move that won’t placate opposition to its measures.
She noted members of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario recently voted 92 per cent in favour of a one-day walkout if the government imposed contracts – an action Broten said will now be illegal.
Hammond said a court challenge of the legislation’s constitutionality will also continue and the Liberals are mistaken if they believe its repeal will get them off the political hot seat.
She and her provincial counterparts are also set to meet to discuss their next move on Jan. 9.
“I don’t think there’s going to be much good will when it comes to doing extra after our members have been so devalued by the government,” Hammond said.
“The issues definitely remain for us and we will be looking ahead to the next election and expecting that our members will be very engaged in the next provincial election.”
Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board chair Tim Simmons said he’s disappointed by Broten’s move and hopes her government finds a way to resolve its dispute with teachers.
He noted trustees last month urged Queen’s Park to review or scrap Bill 115, but “our intent was that it be done before it was used.”
“We had hoped that our contracts could have been created through local bargaining,” he said.
“The local bargaining process is important for local school boards because it allows us to create contracts with a local flavour and it allows you to be more creative with scarce resources.”
As for the withdrawal of extracurricular activities, Simmons said teachers “have to do what they think they need to do under the circumstances.”
“The board respects and supports the staff and we value their work with our students,” he said.
“We appreciate the patience and support and understanding of our wider community under the circumstances and we hope there will be a way to resolve things and make everything come back to normal across the province.”