Along with about 80 other teachers' union activists from across Ontario, Barb Blasutti watched from the legislature's gallery Sept. 11 as the provincial government passed legislation to impose a contract on teachers.
She said she didn't like what she saw.
“It's a very dark day for Ontario,” Blasutti, the president of the Rainbow local of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, said. “What we saw today was basically an undermining of our rights.”
Under the constitution, every worker in the country has the right to negotiate a collective agreement, she said.
With the passing of Bill 115, known as the Putting Students First Act, this right has essentially been revoked from the province's education workers, Blasutti said.
She said her union, along with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), will likely be launching a charter challenge against the bill.
“I know our members and all of the teachers in Ontario will not forget this betrayal by our government,” Blasutti said. “We will do whatever it takes to correct this attack on our bargaining rights.”
Sam Hammond, president of the ETFO, also called on his members to show their disapproval of the legislation by taking a “pause” from voluntary work such as supervising school extracurricular activities or coaching sports' teams.
The union is also introducing “McGuinty Mondays,” when teachers and education workers will be urged not to participate in school-based meetings on Mondays.
Although these actions may sound a bit like work to rule, Blasutti said they're actually not.
“A work to rule has a very specific meaning,” she said.
“It can only occur in a certain timeline in the bargaining process. That would be after a strike vote ... A work to rule would mean a pullback of even the things we do in the instructional day, for example. That's not what this is.”
While teachers are taking their “pause,” extracurricular activities will have to be supervised by other education workers or members of the community, Blasutti said.
OSSTF president Ken Coran called on his members to withdraw extracurricular services only on Sept. 12 and wear black clothes and armbands.
“The passing of Bill 115 today represents one of the darkest days in the history of workers’ rights in recent memory,” Coran said in a press release.
“This government has now passed a law that tramples on the rights of education workers in Ontario, and it appears that Premier (Dalton) McGuinty will be targeting other workers in the near future.”
The bill passed in the minority legislature with the help of the Progressive Conservatives, although the NDP voted against it. Blasutti said she was disappointed to watch Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci vote in favour of the bill.
Among other measures, Bill 115 freezes teachers' wages for two years and prevents them from walking off the job.
“We are doing what we need to do, and we are putting the needs of students first,” McGuinty said in Question Period.
But Blasutti said she thinks the legislation was “completely unwarranted.” She said her union was willing to negotiate with the province, but the government just tried to dictate the terms of the agreement.
The province was able to negotiate deals with about half of the province's teachers this summer, including the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, but the ETFO and the OSSTF held out.
“Never once” did the ETFO demand pay increases, as the union is well aware of the fiscal realities in the province, Blasutti said.
Education Minister Laurel Broten has thrown out a lot of numbers that aren't based in reality, she said.
“The majority of teachers in my local were not scheduled for any sort of pay increases,” Blasutti said.
At the same time, ETFO will continue its negotiations with the Rainbow District School Board, she said.
Even though some of the terms of the contract have now been imposed by the province, there are still some things that can be worked out at a local level, Blasutti said.