Ontario’s high school teachers will reveal their plans to protest the Ontario Liberal government now that negotiations have crumbled and members across the province are in a legal strike position.
The union’s leadership will meet Monday and discuss strategy, including joining elementary teachers for one-day walk outs scheduled for the last two weeks of schools before the Christmas holidays. They will announce their strategy at a hotel airport Monday afternoon.
Ontario elementary school teachers began on Sunday to cast electronic ballots on whether to hold one-day walkouts, the next step in their confrontation with the government over imposing the terms of their contracts.
The vote by the 76,000 members of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario ends on Monday at midnight, and the teachers were told to expect a message from union president Sam Hammond on Tuesday.
The voting did not go without glitches. “So many #ETFO members calling Help Desk that phone line has collapsed. Working on repair,” the union said on its Twitter account at around 4:30 p.m.
Union spokeswoman Valerie Dugale would not confirm the nature of the balloting, but union notices seen by The Globe and Mail said members would be voting on a “day of protest.”
While the union will not call the proposed protest a strike, it would effectively shut down schools for a day, a move Education Minister Laurel Broten has threatened to block.
Timing of the one-day protests is expected to be staggered across school boards, between Dec. 10 and 21.
The first school boards to be affected would likely be the five where teachers are already in a strike position – York Region; Trillium Lakelands, north of Toronto; Rainy River in northwest Ontario; Kawartha Pine Ridge in Peterborough; and Upper Grand in Guelph.
(Staff at the Toronto district school board will be in a strike position the week of Dec. 10.)
Already at those five boards, teachers are refusing to engage in extracurricular activities such as supervising clubs, organizing team sports or field trips.
“They basically either have or are moving into work-to-rule situations,” Ms. Dugale said.
To parents concerned about having to make alternative child-care arrangements, the union has said it will give three days’ notice before any walkout.
The protests stem from Bill 115, which gives the government powers to impose wage agreements, cut the number of teachers’ sick days and block strikes or lockouts.
The labour strife triggered a counter-protest by elementary students at Guelph’s Upper Grand District School Board last week.
Students at Paisley Road Public School had been told on Thursday that a pizza lunch that would have raised funds for school activities had been cancelled because teachers would not help collect the money.
Some students spontaneously made protest signs and marched around the schoolyard.
They tried to repeat the protest the next day, but school officials put an end to the movement, saying that it was too disruptive to those in younger grades.
“It’s a very, very difficult situation where front-line teachers who want to serve the kids are having to implement rules that are not of their choosing, based on decisions of their unions,” one parent at Paisley Road said in an interview.
“They have only so many tools at their disposal to implement their work to rule.”
In a reflection of the tension created by the protests, the parent who spoke to the Globe and Mail asked that his name not be made public.
“I have to walk to school with these folks and see them everyday on the playgrounds and there are some very strong feelings over the issue.”
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