Protest 'very disruptive,' director says
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) announced Jan. 9 their members will walk off the job for a one-day political protest.
In response to the protest, classes, as well as school bus transportation, have been cancelled Jan. 11 for all elementary school students attending the Rainbow District School Board.
This includes Grade 7 and 8 students at Chelmsford Valley District Composite School and Lively District Secondary School, as well as those attending Gatchell School and the Ruth MacMillan Centre.
Barb Blasutti, president of ETFO's Rainbow local, said she's still working out the details of the protest, but there will likely be pickets outside of about 10 different schools.
Last month, ETFO held a mass rally in downtown Sudbury during the union's series of rotating one-day strikes.
The Jan. 11 protest is in response to Education Minister Laurel Broten imposing contracts on many of the province's teachers last week.
Now that teachers are under a contract, they're no longer in a legal strike position. Broten said any further strike action would be illegal.
But Blasutti said the walkout isn't illegal because it's a political protest, not a strike.
“Members are exercising their right to protest,” she said, speaking to Northern Life from Toronto, where her union's leaders met Jan. 8-9.
When asked about the possibility Broten could penalize her members for the walkout, she said she hopes the minister is “finished trampling on our democratic rights,” but if she should decide to do so, “we'll deal with it at that time.”
As of the late afternoon of Jan. 9, Broten had not yet issued a statement about the teachers' plans.
Blasutti said she feels for parents who are dealing with school being cancelled, but said it's not a position her members would like to be in.
“We have said since February that all we want to do is bargain a fair and respectful collective agreement,” she said. “It's the minister of education that has not allowed us to do that.”
The day Broten imposed collective agreements on teachers “was a very poor day for democracy, that's for sure,” she said.
"The minister's actions are all about political gain and politics,” Blasutti said. “There's absolutely no reason to do this.”
Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) members have also voted in favour of holding a one-day political protest, although no announcements about this subject have yet been forthcoming.
The leaders of both ETFO and OSSTF have stated on their websites that their members will continue to boycott extracurricular activities. Blasutti said she doesn't want to speak to the media about this subject yet.
“We're going to address that issue in the next few days, but right now, we're focused on the political protest,” she said.
As he did when ETFO members walked off the job in December, Blaseg apologized to the parents who are affected. Letters were sent home with students, informing parents of the situation.
“I know this is a true inconvenience," Blaseg said.
He said he was only informed of the protest at around 1 p.m. Jan. 9, which he considers insufficient notice.
“It caught us by surprise,” Blaseg said. “In the past, there was 72 hours notice.”
He said it doesn't matter to him whether teachers call the walkout a political protest or a strike — it's still “problematic” for everyone involved.
Blaseg said it was his understanding that they're supposed to be providing all services laid out in the collective agreement imposed by the government.
“I'm not going to be shy about this,” he said.
“This is very disruptive. It is very disruptive for parents and it's very disruptive for the school system. Somehow we need to find a mechanism and a process to get this under control and have it dealt with.”