Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustees are calling on Queen’s Park to review or scrap Bill 115 as elementary teachers threaten to go on strike with three days’ notice.
Trustees have also given senior staff the go-ahead to “more creatively find solutions, monetary and non-monetary” in the wake of last week’s vote by high school teachers to reject a tentative contract settlement reached on Nov. 18.
The secondary teachers are now set to join a province-wide withdrawal from sports and other extracurricular activities this Monday.
“Sometimes when the government passes a bill, they might have good intentions. However, this bill has caused a tremendous amount of stress within the educational system,” Mountain trustee Wes Hicks said.
“Once a specific bill passed by Queen’s Park starts to affect kids in the classroom, it’s time for both groups to realize that it’s gone beyond whatever each side wanted to accomplish,” he said.
“It’s time to get down to the table and solve the problems so that the kids are not hurt in the classroom.”
Bill 115 sets out a framework for contract settlements that includes a two-year wage freeze, an end to retirement payouts of up to six months of unused sick days and a cut in annual sick days to 10 from 20.
Board chair Tim Simmons said the legislation is an impediment to local agreements, but the board is willing to “listen to any proposals that might reach a deal to get labour peace.”
He said while he’s not yet clear on how the elementary teachers’ threatened strike action will play out, the 72-hour notice will let the board give parents “fair warning” to make alternate arrangements if schools are forced to close.
“We’re really hoping that doesn’t happen,” Simmons said, calling relations with local union groups “as good as they can be under the circumstances.”
“In spite of all this, I think we’re all still focused on children and their well-being,” he said. “We have a lot of respect with our local bargaining groups and we’re bargaining in good faith and with the best intentions with each other.”
Chantal Mancini, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation of Hamilton-Wentworth, called the withdrawal of extracurricular activities “an extremely difficult decision,” but said the province has left her members no other option.
She said teachers are willing to accept a wage freeze, but not the stripping of their collective bargaining rights.
“I think the government and Bill 115 have created chaos and our members have no choice. They’re fed up, they’re upset, they want their rights restored and really under Bill 115 it’s all they have left,” Mancini said.
“Every parent should be calling their MPP and saying, “You got your wage freeze. Why do you need to have this draconian legislation in place? Why do you need to create chaos in our schools?’”
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has warned its job actions “will affect operations in each public elementary school throughout the province.”
Bill 115 bans strike action for two years, but this prohibition only 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 if necessary.
Hamilton trustees voted on Monday to put on indefinite hold a resolution calling for the creation of a single, publicly funded school system to achieve the cost savings envisioned by Bill 115, with a majority arguing doing so would accept the legislation’s premise.
“We’d be giving undue merit to Bill 115,” Ward 5 trustee Todd White said. “I personally do not think Bill 115 is even worth the paper it’s written on.”