A number of speakers addressed the crowd, including Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) president Ken Coran and Toronto-Danforth NDP MPP Peter Tabuns.
Barb Blasutti, president of the Rainbow local of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, said she thought the rally was fantastic.
“It was energizing, it was encouraging, and it was very uplifting,” she said.
The minority Liberal government recalled the legislature two weeks early to pass a law which would impose new contract terms on teachers. Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak has expressed his support.
The province has been able to negotiate deals with about half of the province's teachers, including the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, but the ETFO and the OSSTF have held out.
Blasutti said Education Minister Laurel Broten has been misleading the public by implying that passing the legislation will ensure labour peace in the province's schools.
“Only from the minister's mouth have you heard things such as the school year being in jeopardy,” she said. “Elementary teachers — and I think I can speak for secondary teachers as well — have always said we'll be in the classroom in the fall.”
The government has insisted they have to act because if existing contracts roll over this coming weekend, salary increases for teachers and banking of unused sick days will cost an extra $473 million.
“Never once” have the teachers' unions demanded pay increases in negotiations earlier this year, Blasutti said.
“We are well aware of the economic realities in Ontario, and we have said time and again we are willing to sit down and talk to the minister and help find solutions to the problems.”
Broten is throwing out numbers that aren't based in reality, she said.
“She's saying that all teachers are going to be getting salary increases,” Blasutti said. “Sixty per cent of the teachers in the Rainbow local are not getting pay increases. It's only the younger teachers who are still working their way up the pay grid who are still scheduled for pay increases.”
At a provincial level, the ETFO has found negotiations difficult, she said.
Instead of government leaders and bureaucrats, lawyers represented the province at the table, Blasutti said.
“They basically dictated and told provincial representatives what the terms were going to be,” she said. “It wasn't a discussion, and it wasn't a negotiation. It was 'This is how we are going to destroy our collective agreement.'”
The ETFO's local negotiations with the Rainbow District School Board are much different, Blasutti said.
Dena Morrison, vice-chair of the Rainbow board, told Northern Life earlier this month that regardless of what the province does, the school board will continue to bargain in good faith.
“Good for Dena,” Blasutti said, adding that her union has “an excellent working relationship” with the school board.
“We have already established a week where we did sit down and start the bargaining process, and we have more dates in the very near future,” she said. “That has always been our intent – to bargain a fair and respectful collective agreement with the board.”
As for what the legislation will do to any future contract with the board, Blasutti said “we'll have to see where that unfolds.”
Meanwhile, Paula Peroni, who ran for the Progressive Conservatives in Sudbury in the last provincial election, and is also a trustee with the Sudbury Catholic District School Board and the past-president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association, said in an Aug. 28 letter that she thinks Broten is behaving like a bully.
When the minister signed agreements with Catholic teachers last month, she left the “democratically elected” representatives of school board trustees out of the deal, she said.
“When the minister couldn't get her own way by forcing boards to sign onto deals before the start of the school year, she threatened and then delivered bad legislation,” Peroni said.
“There were no teachers threatening strike action and there were no boards preparing anything other than a wonderful back-to-school season for anyone. The only foot stomping hysteria is coming from the minister.”
She said that in her 15 years in education, “a bigger bully I have never seen.”