Teachers unhappy with recent provincial legislation will be protesting in front of Sudbury MPP and Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick Bartolucci's office Sept. 28.
Bill 115, passed earlier this month, imposes a contract on teachers which, among other measures, freezes their wages for two years and prevents them from walking off the job.
The protest, which will take place between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at the corner of Lisgar and Cedar Streets, is being led by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF).
It will also likely be attended by teachers and education support staff belonging to other unions, according to James Clyke, president of OSSTF's Rainbow local, which represents secondary teachers working for the Rainbow District School Board.
“I've been getting some information from some of our school sites, suggesting they're going to be sending buses of teachers,” he said.
The protesters will pass out information about Bill 115 and how it affects teachers and support staff, Clyke said.
“Since Mr. Bartolucci has refused to meet us in the past with regards to discussing some of those things when we were in Toronto, down at the legislature, maybe he'll come out and have a discussion with us.”
In protest of the legislation, OSSTF members withdrew their participation in extracurricular activities Sept. 12, the day after the legislation passed, and wore black clothes and armbands.
Members of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) have taken their job action a step further.
Provincial ETFO leaders have asked their members to take a “pause” from voluntary work such as supervising school extracurricular activities or coaching sports teams.
This is especially encouraged on Mondays, which the union has coined “McGuinty Mondays.”
Barb Blasutti, president of ETFO's Rainbow local, which represents elementary teachers working for the Rainbow board, said she's not sure the extent to which extracurricular activities at the board's schools are being affected.
“What's specifically happening, I can't say, because we're just asking members to consider taking a pause,” she said. “I can't speak for any individual who has or has not.”
What's at stake is democracy, the attack on our constitutional and our charter rights.
president of ETFO's Rainbow local
Blasutti is quick to point out that classroom instruction is not being affected by this form of protest.
While there may be some students who aren't able to participate in a club or a sport, people need to understand that teachers are making this decision because there's something much bigger at stake here, she said.
“What's at stake is democracy, the attack on our constitutional and our charter rights,” Blasutti said. “We're standing up for Ontario, and that includes the students we are teaching right now. It's that big.”
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.
Norm Blaseg, director of education with the Rainbow District School Board, said more and more elementary teachers are choosing to withdraw from extracurricular activities.
He said in some cases, these activities can continue with volunteers from the community, as long as it's also supervised by a staff member from the school.
“It's not the best conditions for which we would like to be having at this time, but it is certainly something we would accept to ensure the students still continue to receive that whole experience,” Blaseg said.
The school board doesn't agree with the teachers' reaction to Bill 115, he said, as they'd hoped they would take actions which wouldn't affect students, but they certainly understand why they're doing what they are.
“This is a reaction to the legislation,” Blaseg said. “They're extremely disappointed, and they don't know what else to do in order to get their message across.”
At the same time, the Rainbow board continues to meet with unions representing its staff members, he said.
Even though some of the terms of the contract have now been imposed by the province, there are still some things that are worked out at a local level, Blaseg said.
OSSTF and ETFO aren't the only teachers' groups unhappy with the provincial legislation.
In the lead-up to the passing of Bill 115, the province signed memorandums with several teachers' groups, including the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA).
But local OECTA union leaders say this agreement left their members out in the cold.
Sudbury-area OECTA locals representing elementary, secondary and occasional teachers have filed a complaint against the union's provincial executive with the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
They allege the executive failed to represent their members fairly.
What happened was the provincial union executive put the Sudbury union members' retiree benefits on the bargaining table to “offset some of the other government parameters,” Kent MacNeill, president of the OECTA local representing Sudbury-area English Catholic elementary and occasional teachers, said.
“Sudbury elementary and Sudbury secondary OECTA were the only teacher units in all of OECTA that had retiree benefits for our members,” he said.
“So if you retired, you would have extended health-care coverage for hospital stay, chiropractic, massage, and so on, up until age 65.”
MacNeill said an internal complaint has already been filed with the union, but it got nowhere.
He said he also has a problem with how the memorandum of understanding was signed with the province in the first place, as all the decisions were made by the provincial union executive.
The union's own rules state all the local union presidents are supposed to give direction to the provincial union executive, but this never happened, MacNeill said.