Hamilton’s public elementary schools are closed today as their teachers go on a one-day strike as part of rotating walkouts across Ontario to protest Bill 115.
Lisa Hammond, president of the Hamilton-Wentworth Elementary Teachers’ Local, said she recognizes the situation “is stressful to many parents,” but she hopes they’ll understand the legislation has 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.”
Board chair Tim Simmons said closing schools was necessary because it wouldn’t be possible “to maintain a safe environment for our students” without teachers.
“We know this situation is challenging for everyone and regret the inconvenience this may cause,” he said.
The one-day strike comes 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.
Bill 115 sets out a framework for contract settlements based on one reached with Catholic teachers 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.
It 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 is imposed on them.
While the legislation also gives Education Minister Laurel Broten the power to stop any dispute before then, she has said she won’t intervene in the one-day strikes but will act if walkouts continue beyond that.
Hamilton’s public secondary teachers recently rejected a tentative agreement with the board reached on Nov. 18, one both sides said met the requirements of Bill 115.
Hammond said she “can say with certainty” that 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.
Teachers are picketing at 21 of the board’s 95 schools: Rousseau, Sir William Osler, Mountain View, Parkdale, Woodward, Memorial (Hamilton), Prince of Wales, Queen Mary, Cathy Wever, Billy Green, Janet Lee, Ridgemount, Franklin Road, G.L. Armstrong, Bennetto, Central (Hamilton), Dr. Davey, Hess Street, Dalewood, G.R. Allan, Earl Kitchener.