The Ontario Labour Relations Board’s early-morning ruling that a planned day of protest by elementary teachers amounts to an illegal strike is very welcome. But it doesn’t change the fact that the union that called for the one-day walkout managed to disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and their parents. A statement from the union’s president that “my members are law-abiding citizens” will ring hollow to many people.
The union in question, the militant Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), announced the walkout on Wednesday. Their president, Sam Hammond, claimed his members’ refusal to work was not a strike but a day of “political protest” against Bill 115, the controversial law that freezes teachers’ wages and bans them from striking. The government had no choice but to ask for an 11th-hour ruling from the Labour Relations Board. That process began Thursday afternoon and continued to 4 a.m. on Friday.
The Board thankfully saw through the union’s obvious game of semantics, but not before thousands of parents had to scramble to make alternative child-care plans for Friday’s potential strike. The ruling finally came at 4 a.m., at which time Mr. Hammond announced rather piously that his membership would respect the law and go to work. But he must have known by then the chaos he had created. Parents had no idea what to expect waking up on Friday. The Toronto District School Board (TDSB), the largest in Canada, announced at 6:10 a.m. that its schools would be closed, then changed its mind 10 minutes later. Across the province, some boards stayed closed, most opened, most had no bus service, and the TDSB said there would limited crossing guards available.
In the end, the union’s tactic achieved nothing in settling its dispute with the government, but in terms of turning children and their parents into pawns, it worked perfectly. Perhaps it even caused more disruption and chaos than a straight-forward day of striking would have. The ETFO has been notoriously belligerent in its contract negotiations with the province, a stance that predates Bill 115. With this latest move, whatever public sympathy it may have once had must surely have completely evaporated.