Teachers rally at Queen's Park Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012.
Credits: ERNEST DOROSZUK/Toronto Sun
“What happened in here is shameful,” Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), said Tuesday, referring both to MPPs voting 82-15 in favour of the bill that freezes teachers’ wages, cuts sick benefits and ban strikes for two years, and to a decision to remove the union leaders from the second floor of the legislature.
The unions, which represent most teachers and school staff in the province outside Catholic and French school boards, say they will launch a constitutional challenge to the Putting Students First Act and ask their teachers to reconsider volunteer activities such as after-school sports and clubs.
The leaders also vowed to campaign against the Liberals and Tories who voted in favour of the bill and in support of the NDP who opposed it.
“This cynical, illegal, unjust law is a problem for all of us,” Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario, said.
McGuinty said he rejected the idea of a social contract, as introduced by the Bob Rae NDP government, and believes his bill will withstand legal scrutiny because an attempt was made to bargain with the teachers and school staff representatives.
The battered provincial treasury cannot afford to give the teachers a pay hike right now, and the province doesn’t want to give up on full-day kindergarten or small class sizes, McGuinty has said.
“Families are saying to us, ‘Give our kids a quality education and give us a strong economy so my child, when she grows up, has access to a good job,’ and that’s what we’re delivering on,” McGuinty said. “What (Bill 115) does is it protects some 20,000 jobs inside our schools, it protects the progress we continue to make in full-day kindergarten, it protects smaller class sizes and it protects progress inside our schools. That’s what it does.”
But the “Education Premier” was repeatedly criticized by the unions, with Hammond suggesting he no longer deserved that title.
Hammond said his members would joining OSSTF to “take a pause” on extra-curricular activities. As well, the union is urging its members to take part in “McGuinty Mondays” in which teachers and educational professionals will not take part in school or system-level meetings.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who benefited from the support of angry unions in her recent Kitchener-Waterloo byelection win, said she expects that the bill will fail because it does away with collective bargaining, a constitutional right.
“The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says that they doubt the bill is constitutional. Professors at Osgoode Hall Law School note the fact that if you simply bargained for six months or any period of time, that isn’t the case law,” Horwath said. “That’s what they’re saying at Osgoode Hall.
“I’d ask the premier to listen to some of those experts.”