By ROGER BELGRAVE
Special to Focus
Several hundred teachers, many clad in black, attended a public school board meeting Tuesday night in unified protest against the Liberal government’s new education legislation.
About 300 teachers, mostly local members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), filled the Peel District School Board’s meeting room beyond its seating capacity.
The regular twice-monthly meeting to deal with board business wasn’t disrupted by the throng. There were no signs or placards and no one spoke on their behalf, but school board trustees got the message loud and clear. Typically these public meetings attract a sparse gallery— at best.
In their black clothing and some wearing buttons that read: Stand Up, Stand Strong, Stand United, the teachers were there to display solidarity in their opposition to the government’s Bill 115 and mourn the legislation’s passing at Queen’s Park earlier in the day.
“It’s our Black Tuesday,” said Desiree Francis, president of the local high school teachers’ union.
The Liberal’s Putting Students First Act imposes wage freezes, pay cuts, benefit reductions and bans strike or lockout action for workers in Ontario’s public school system.
It sets stringent parameters for new contract negotiations between school boards, their teachers and other workers in Ontario’s public school system. That blueprint for bargaining labour deals is intended to save the government more than $1 billion in education spending.
“We view this as an unprecedented time,” said Francis.
Teachers’ union, school boards and other critics have called the bill an attack on collective bargaining rights and the constitutional rights of workers in Ontario.
Ontario’s public school elementary teachers and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario, which represents some 55,000 workers in the province’s schools, have joined high school teachers in a pledge to fight the legislation in court.
Yesterday, CUPE announced it has retained Andrew Lokan from the firm Paliare Roland to begin legal proceedings challenging the bill’s constitutionality.
Both the Peel board and Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School have sided with most of the provinces’s school boards who have denounced aspects of the bill and the government’s approach to this round of collective bargaining.
Ontario’s Catholic school teachers accepted a Memorandum of Understanding with the government that incorporates the essential elements of the bill.
Local unions and school boards are now expected to use the bill to hammer out new contracts between now and Dec. 31.
Peel high school teachers are scheduled to participate in strike votes next week and elementary school teachers have a strike vote scheduled for Sept. 27.
By ROGER BELGRAVE