Hundreds of Toronto District School Board (TDSB) elementary school teachers took to streets Tuesday morning, Dec. 18, protesting outside the TDSB offices at 5050 Yonge Street.
The teachers staged a one-day walkout, leaving work to picket the school board, office of the Ministry of Education, and several schools across Toronto. At issue was the controversial Bill 115, which the teachers’ union says strips them of their collective bargaining rights.
Terri Lynn Platt, an executive officer with Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT), noted the union has not staged a strike or walkout since 1987, underscoring how staunchly they oppose the bill.
“Teachers are very patient people and we’re at the end of our patience,” she said. “It’s been 25 years since we were last on a picket line, so we don’t do it lightly.”
The union was quick to point out the disagreement is not about money. Platt pointed to the fact the bill essentially hamstrings the union and calls for a number of concessions.
“There’s language in the memorandum of understanding that says (teachers are) going to have three P.D. days without pay,” she said. “Those aren’t days off for teachers. P.D. days are working days.”
She added the union’s decision to stage a walkout was a way to strike a blow for all workers.
“If teachers are forced to work without rights, what does that mean for workers everywhere?” she said.
Platt said all the union wants is to be able to sit at the bargaining table with the TDSB, but noted negotiations have been moving at a “glacial pace.” ETT vice-president Andy Lomnicki said the turnout from teachers was impressive but not surprising given what is at stake. He noted the union has received support from other labour groups and the general public.
“I think a lot of people recognize this is an unprecedented attack and realize the implications of it,” he said.
He said Bill 115 marked the first time the McGuinty government has passed legislation of this sort, adding it gives the TDSB an out when it comes to negotiating.
“To a certain extent (the TDSB) are hamstrung by this, but they’re using Bill 115 as an excuse saying they can’t negotiate,” he said. Lomnicki said, despite the province’s budget crunch, there are plenty of items up for negotiation that would not require any extra expenditure, such as opening the transfer process, making staff meetings more inclusive and including language in the contract that states teachers’ participation in extra-curricular activities is completely voluntary.
“The board has always said they believe in (voluntary extra-curricular participation) but it’s not in the contract,” he said. “It leaves it up to individual principals and we’ve heard stories of some of them bullying teachers into taking part in extra-curriculars.”
Lomnicki said the union was set to meet with the school board on Wednesday, Dec. 19 but noted the pace of negotiations to date imply the TDSB is waiting for the province’s imposed Dec. 31 negotiating deadline to pass.
“Right now, it’s a waiting game,” he said. “It seems like they’re waiting to see if there’s going to be a political solution to this.”
He noted the union is hopeful an agreement can be worked out prior to the Dec. 31 deadline, or that an extension can be added to the negotiating window if a deal cannot be agreed upon.