NIAGARA – Niagara’s public elementary school teachers will walk off the job Tuesday as part of rotating one-day strikes protesting controversial legislation imposed by the Liberal government of Premier Dalton McGuinty earlier this year.
Multiple sources tell Bullet News members of the Niagara local of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario have been advised to prepare for strike action Tuesday.
It will be a boardwide, one-day walk out, sources say.
“I was told ‘get your mittens ready, we’re going out’,’ one teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity told Bullet News, Thursday evening.
District School Board of Niagara chairman Kevin Maves confirmed the information received by Bullet News Thursday evening.
“That’s the same information we have,” said Maves.
Maves said a letter is being prepared to be sent home with students on Friday, explaining the situation and asking parents to make “other arrangements” for the care of their children on Tuesday.
Schools won’t be open for classes for “safety reasons” during the strike, Maves said.
DSBN officials would not comment when contacted Thursday, although sources say principals were summoned to the board throughout the day for meetings.
“We don’t have anything to announce right now,” spokesman Brett Sweeney wrote in an email.
There was no response when Bullet News asked directly if a strike would take place Tuesday.
Valerie Dugale, a spokeswoman for ETFO head office, would neither confirm nor deny that a strike is planned for Tuesday.
Dugale repeated the union’s standard line that in the event of a strike public notification would be issued 72 hours in advance.
At one Niagara school, parents were being informed Thursday by daycare staff that the strike was coming. However, families were unable to obtain confirmation from school administration.
“This is terrible,” one parent said. “By the time we get the letter they will have left us with one business day to arrange childcare. This is awful.”
Parents were told daycare facilities will remain open Tuesday, but that they should prepare to have to walk through a picket line.
At this point, it doesn’t look as though there is any way of avoiding Tuesday’s strike.
On Thursday, Premier Dalton McGuinty saad his government won’t put a stop to any legal, one-day teacher strikes – a position that has Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives claiming the government has lost control of the situation.
McGuinty made his comments in a statement issued regarding Monday’s scheduled one-day strikes in the Stratford area and northern Ontario, as well as the possibility of other similar actions elsewhere in Ontario in the coming days.
McGuinty said he’s “disappointed,” adding strike action places students “squarely in the middle of a dispute” between the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the government.
“(It’s a) dispute that we believe ETFO should pursue in the courts against the government, not in our classrooms against our students.”
Despite the “inconvenience” the government will not intervene at this point, he said.
“I understand this will be an inconvenience for parents as they make special arrangements, and it is regrettable for students to miss any time learning, even a day. However, a legal one-day strike action does not warrant the government’s intervention,” said McGuinty.
“It is worth noting that while students will miss an entire day of class, and teachers will spend one entire day on the picket line, and lawyers will spend weeks preparing their case, ETFO leadership have spent less than an hour in the last ten months at the negotiating table, which I continue to believe is the best place to resolve the issue.”
Niagara’s public elementary teachers have been in a legal strike position since Dec. 1. Union members began a work-to-rule campaign on Monday.
Niagara’s Catholic elementary teachers have already concluded contract negotiations so local Catholic schools are unaffected by the current dispute.
Bill 115: Putting Students First Act gives time for local bargaining to continue until Dec. 31, to allow school boards and local unions to conclude local collective agreements.
Bill 115 was passed with the help of opposition leader Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives, who stood with the government members despite claiming the legislation as not going far enough.
Hudak said Thursday he can’t believe the premier and education minister are unprepared to use their powers to threaten sanctions against union leaders in the event of a strike.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Hudak. “Who’s running the province of Ontario? I mean, is there any government in this province?”
Hudak said strikes will disrupt learning and cause headaches for parents, especially those whose jobs will force them to scramble to find alternative care for their children during a walkout.
“Every minute, every dollar spent on getting a babysitter or daycare, that’s on the Ontario Liberals’ heads,” said Hudak.
“They (the Liberals) had an opportunity to stop these strikes, they have run away from their responsibilities. This is clearly the Ontario Liberals putting their own interests ahead of the interests of moms and dads and students in this province.”
Bill 115 has caused a serious rift inside the Liberal party, which seems to be growing now that there’s a seven-way race to replace McGuinty as Liberal leader and premier.
Niagara Falls Liberal MPP Kim Craitor skipped the vote on Bill 115 and has repeatedly spoken out about his concerns about the bill’s infringement on collective bargaining rights.
Sources have told Bullet News that Craitor’s will not be targeted by pickets. However, a political protest involving picketing of Hudak’s office and that of St. Catharines Liberal MPP and cabinet minister Jim Bradley. That protest could take place next week and would likely involve off-duty occasional teachers.
Ontario’s New Democratic Party opposed Bill 115.
On Thursday, NDP education critic Peter Tabuns said the Liberals owe parents an “apology”, blaming their “reckless and unconsitutional” legislation for the current turmoil.
Tabuns suggested the government has lost control of the situation.
“This government clearly doesn’t have a plan anymore,” Tabuns said in a statement.
“Instead of making an effort to reach an agreement that would benefit parents, kids and teachers the McGuinty Liberals came up with a shortsighted scheme in a desperate attempt to win a by-election. Now parents and students are paying the price.”
Tabuns continued: “The McGuinty government’s plan has blown up in their faces and it’s hitting families the hardest. It’s time for a respectful conversation that leads to a real agreement.”