As throngs of teachers thousands-strong packed Queen’s Park beneath the beating sun, union representatives vowed to “turn up the heat” on the government too.
Those were the words of Canadian Union for Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario President Fred Hahn Tuesday afternoon, as educators in the province protested forthcoming legislation that they say would curb their democratic rights.
Teachers say the government should not be imposing a two-year contract that will put them back in classrooms come September without proper negotiations, accusing the government of violating their right to collective bargaining.
But despite the controversial legislation that would freeze their wages, cut benefits and ban strikes or lockouts for at least two years, teachers say the school year will proceed without disrupting students’ education.
The legislation was introduced yesterday by Premier Dalton McGuinty’s minority Liberal government. Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak has also expressed his support.
Mr. Hahn spoke alongside Peter Tabuns, the NDP MPP for Toronto-Danforth and Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), amongst others.
The rally was organized by the ETFO, whose members were joined by those from CUPE Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), which constituted the majority of the crowd.
“I’m just feel like I’m living in North Korea right now,” said Lori Michaud, who teaches full-day kindergarten at Elmcrest Public School in Mississauga, expressed concern that the proposed legislation would have her “rights and freedoms stripped away.”
However, members from other unions – including those which have already signed new deals with the Ontario government – came to pledge their support as well.
“Any legislation jammed down someone’s throat isn’t fair,” said Brian Hogan, the local president for the Windsor-Essex chapter of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, whose union had already accepted an agreement similar to the proposed legislation with the Ontario government last month.
“We did sign a deal, fair enough,” he conceded. “But to then legislate goes against the way a government should work with workers.”
Gary Howe, vice president of Local 1005, a Hamilton union of “Proud Canadian Steelworkers,” said that it wasn’t right for the government to legislate the majority of its province’s teachers based on a “fabricated” crisis.
“It’s important that workers stick together in Ontario, because we’re seeing our rights be eroded,” he said.
Members from both ETFO and CUPE could be seen hoisting hundreds of red signs above their heads, adorned with calls to “Negotiate Don’t Legislate” and stand united against the Ontario government’s bullying.
Others brought homemade signs, which boasted slogans such as “Flunk you, McGuinty” and “Thank Dalton for throwing us under the bus.”
Jamie Rusynyk, a third grade teacher at Credit Valley Public School in Mississauga, said today’s rally was an important step in changing the public’s perception of educational employees.
“People either stand by teachers or they’re against them,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any middle ground.”
With files from The Canadian Press