Ontario braces for week of teachers' strikes
Published Monday, December 17, 2012 8:09AM EST
Last Updated Monday, December 17, 2012 2:35PM EST
One-day teacher walkouts are taking place today in Hamilton and three school boards in northern Ontario, while hundreds of thousands of parents brace for labour disruptions that will affect their children in the Greater Toronto Area on Tuesday and later in the week.
Rotating one-day walkouts by elementary and junior high school teachers are taking place at school boards across the province all week. Teachers are primarily upset about Bill 115, a controversial law that allows the provincial government to block strikes, freeze wages and cut benefits.
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario announced that teachers in the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board would be striking on Monday, along with northern Ontario teachers in Sudbury, Moose Factory Island and Moosonee.
In Hamilton, reaction among parents was mixed on Monday.
"I'm a unionized employee so I understand the issue of unions, but I have a little bit of an issue with how the kids are affected," said one man.
One mother dealing with the prospect of a Tuesday walkout said she was forced to come up with a childcare plan for her son.
"I'm going to let him stay at home with my partner. Luckily I have someone who's at home, otherwise I would have to pay for additional daycare," she said. "So I feel lucky, otherwise you have to do what you have to do."
On Tuesday, the strike action will move to the GTA and seven other boards, leaving hundreds of thousands of parents scrambling to organize childcare. The planned walkout in Toronto will be the largest to affect the region to-date.
“As the largest school board in the province, this is not an action that our members take lightly,” Martin Long, president of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto, said in a statement. “We have been forced into this action by an education minister who has willfully stripped educators of their legal right to collectively bargain.”
The Toronto strike alone is expected to affect 784 schools and 328,000 students. Daycare centres that operate on school property may also be affected. Each daycare can choose whether to open on Tuesday, but any workers would likely have to cross a picket line in order to do so.
The nearby Durham and Peel boards will also stage a walkout Tuesday, along with Waterloo, Lambton-Kent, Greater Essex County, Grand Erie and the Near North.
And ETFO released plans Monday for strike action from an additional four school boards. Teachers in the Thames Valley District School Board -- which covers the London, Woodstock and St. Thomas areas -- will be staging one-day walkouts on Thursday, along with the Limestone board, which includes the city of Kingston.
Teachers in the Superior-Greenstone board in northwestern Ontario and the Upper Canada board in eastern Ontario will also be staging walkouts Thursday.
The ETFO has been in a legal strike position since Dec. 10, and members haven't been participating in field trips, play days or voluntary extra-curricular activities since that time.
Premier Dalton McGuinty has criticized the teachers for involving students in what he calls a pay dispute. The union insists the job action is not about money, but Bill 115.
The union says the bill -- which includes a new anti-strike law that gives the government the power to impose a new collective agreement on teachers -- is unconstitutional and violates their collective bargaining rights.
If teachers don't reach local deals with their school boards by Dec. 31, the province will put its own solution in place, freezing wages for most instructors and cutting benefits, such as sick days.
Teachers walk the picket line in Hamilton, Ont., on Monday, Dec. 17, 2012.