MUSKOKA - Muskoka’s elementary teachers in the Trillium Lakelands District School Board will join their secondary school counterparts in work-to-rule strike action beginning Monday, Nov. 26.
Trillium Lakelands District School Board trustee chair
The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario represents over 740 elementary teachers and 371 occasional teachers in the Trillium Lakelands District School Board.
Working without a contract since Aug. 31, Trillium Lakelands teacher and occasional teacher locals held a vote on Sept. 20, following the passing of Bill 115 by the Ontario government, and received overwhelming mandates for strike action from their members. Along with prohibiting teachers from striking for two years, Bill 115 imposes wage freezes, unpaid holidays and halves sick days. Unions have until Dec. 31 to reach agreements with their boards, based on the parameters set out in Bill 115, before the province will step in and impose an agreement for them. At that point, the strike action ban will also come into effect. In the meantime, Bill 115 also gives Education Minister Laurel Broten the power to end strike action at any time.
“Bill 115 is not just a pause on wages,” said Steve Colliver, president of the Trillium Lakelands Teacher Local. “It eliminates, with the stroke of a pen, terms that have been in collective agreements for decades. Bill 115 has also interfered with our ability to bargain to the point where job action is the only viable option to achieving fair settlements.”
Following procedures outlined in the Ontario Labour Relations Act, elementary teachers in Trillium Lakelands reach a legal strike position on Monday, Nov. 26.
At that time, teachers will withdraw from administrative duties and arrive at school 30 minutes prior to class time and leave no later than 30 minutes after class is dismissed. McGuinty Mondays and Tuesdays, where teachers refuse to participate in any school-based or system-level meetings continue. Voluntary extracurricular activities will also not be conducted on Mondays or Tuesdays.
Over the past weeks teachers voluntarily conducted similar protest actions, but now that they are in strike position, teachers must adhere to the strike protocol, said Colliver. However, parents and students aren’t expected to suffer too greatly from the impacts of the strike.
“The Stage 1 of a work-to-rule protocol is not meant to impact upon students or parents, it’s meant to impact upon administration,” said Colliver.
The school board has no concerns in terms of student safety at this time, said board chair Karen Round, adding they are prepared to respond to possible actions taken by the teachers.
“There is a contingency plan in place,” she said. “There has been since the beginning of the school year and we will see how Monday rolls out and continue to monitor it on a school-by-school basis.”
Colliver confirmed student supervision was not part of the impending strike action.
“Student safety is important,” he said. “We will continue to do what duties we get paid to do, instruct students, give them the help they need, take attendance, talk to parents when they want to talk, and make sure we supervise their kids and keep them safe.”
In the meantime, both sides say they are continuing to work toward a resolution.
“We are working hard,” said Round. “I am very hopeful; it’s just to see how we can continue to make progress.”
In the meantime, the Trillium Lakelands Teachers Local is planning an anti-Bill 115 protest rally for Dec. 5 at Norm Miller’s office at 165 Manitoba Street in Bracebridge between 4 and 5 p.m.
“We are inviting our members, of course,” said Colliver, “but we’re also asking CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) members, OSSTF (Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation) members, friends, family, just about anybody who would like to express their displeasure at Bill 115.”