Ontario elementary schools are expected on Friday to be shut down by protests for the second time this school year. The difference this time being that teachers will be defying a controversial education bill, not just opposing it.
And those teachers could be personally fined for breaking the law.
The Globe and Mail reports that the Liberal government will file an application with the Ontario Labour Relations Board seeking to block an illegal strike planned for Friday. If the bid is successful and teachers strike anyway, the unions could see hefty fines and the teachers themselves could face daily charges of $2,000.
The stakes are much higher now than when Ontario elementary teacher unions held a series of rolling one-day strike ahead of the Christmas break to oppose Bill 115 — the Putting Students First Act — which sought to freeze salaries for two years, roll back some benefits and, most controversially, remove the right to strike.
As we know, the legislation was put into action last week. As we know, those unions that had not come to an agreement on a new contract will have ones imposed upon them. As we know, they are not happy.
Their unhappiness has led many of Ontario’s largest school boards to cancel classes on Friday, as the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) vows to hold what they call a “political protest.” Premier Dalton McGuinty is calling is “illegal strike action.”
A strike on Friday would be an illegal strike. I know teachers are law-abiding. I know they do not want to break the law. And I am urging them not to.
Earlier this week, McGuinty optimistically asked teachers to return to extracurricular activities, saying in their “heart of hearts” teachers wanted to do the right thing.
It is equal parts honourable and naïve of McGuinty to paint the rank and file of protesting teachers’ unions with such noble brushes. There are causes and effects, and this is the way everyone expected it would play out.
There is no doubt that the large majority of teachers would jump at the chance to return to the status quo, return to coaching and tutoring and volunteering their time.
But everything is not equal. In the eyes of those teachers, Bill 115 and those imposed contracts have upset the apple cart.
According to ETFO, a vote to hold a day of protest if the controversial legislation was put into action received 92 per cent support. Hence, the Friday strike.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation says it will also hold a day of protest next Wednesday, should the bill not be repealed.
McGuinty says the job action is illegal, and will ask the province’s labour board to rule thusly. That is when this gets interesting.
The teachers have proven they are willing the fight the government over the imposed contracts. They could soon be forced to prove their will to fight the law.
With their pocketbooks and much more at stake.