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Province urged to let school boards settle teacher spat

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

The chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board says he continues to believe repealing Bill 115 is the best way to end the contract standoff that saw Monday’s one-day walkout by elementary teachers.

Tim Simmons said while the legislation gives Education Minister Laurel Broten the power to impose a two-year contract after Dec. 31, he’d prefer she give school boards financial guidelines and let them bargain local solutions.

“With or without Bill 115, they give us the pot of money and it’s for us to negotiate within that parameter,” he said. “We could have been far more creative in how we use that pot.”

Simmons said he hopes the province doesn’t impose contracts because doing so could see teachers continue to withdraw from extracurricular activities and effectively work to rule for two years.

He said by all accounts Monday’s walkout, which closed the board’s 95 elementary schools, went “very smoothly and there were no negative incidents.”

“They kept to their promises,” he said of a commitment by teachers not to impede access to schools for child care. “They had a day where they could express themselves.”

The one-day strike came after the board last week cancelled all sports, field trips, after-school clubs and other extracurricular activities at both the elementary and secondary level, preempting a plan by teachers to withdraw from the activities.

Teachers on a picket line on Monday outside Mountain View school in Stoney Creek declined to comment, directing all inquiries to their union leadership.

Lisa Hammond, president of the Hamilton-Wentworth Elementary Teachers’ Local, said she recognizes the ongoing fight with the province “is stressful to many parents,” but she hopes they understand Bill 115 forced teachers to take a stand.

Her members had already begun working to rule on Dec. 10.

“What Bill 115 does to democratic rights is so damaging that we have to resist and we hope that parents will understand that we believe as teachers that that sets an excellent example for their children,” Hammond said.

“When you’re faced with a bully, when you’re faced with someone who’s trying to take away your democratic rights, you have to stand up and do the difficult thing.”

Bill 115 sets out a framework for contract settlements based on one reached with Catholic teachers. It 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.

The legislation bans strike action for two years, but the prohibition only kicks in after a Dec. 31 deadline for teachers to reach a deal before one can be imposed on them.

Hamilton’s high school teachers recently rejected a tentative agreement with the public board reached on Nov. 18, one both sides said met the requirements of Bill 115.

Hammond said she “can say with certainty” the deal wouldn’t have been acceptable to her members either and there is no point to holding talks with the board as long as the legislation is in place.

“The conditions that Bill 115 imposes are so stringent that there’s nowhere left for us to move at the bargaining table at this point,” she said.

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