The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario protested outside the Ministry of Education office at Bay and Wellsley in downtown Toronto on Tuesday January 15, 2013.
Credits: MICHAEL PEAKE/Toronto Sun/QMI
But the province's labour board could order the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) to stop encouraging its members to abstain from them, says a lawyer for two school boards.
Michael Hines, who represents the Trillium Lakelands board in the Kawarthas and Upper Canada District School boards in the Brockville area told a labour board hearing in Toronto on Monday that his clients are seeking a cease and desist order against the union.
ETFO has been ordering its members in regular bulletins to stop doing everything from coaching sports teams to collecting money for pizza days as a form of protest over Bill 115, which imposed wage freezes, benefit rollbacks and limited the ability to strike.
"My clients want to re-create the conditions for voluntary participation," he said. "At the moment, the bulletins in question direct ETFO members not to participate. The school boards can no more compel participation in these activities than ETFO can compel non-participation."
The boards hope the hearings, which will last all week, will sort out the issue.
Hines said the withdrawal of extracurriculars under these circumstances is breaking the law.
"We want a declaration that the kinds of behaviours they're asking for, which is a concerted withdrawal of participation, by teachers in combination with one another, acting together, constitutes an illegal strike."
The boards also want the ETFO to be required to tell its members that they broke the law by distributing the bulletins.
But that core issue was discussed only fleetingly Monday through a hearing which stretched well into the evening. Lawyers spent much of the day discussing the ETFO's argument that since Bill 115 has been repealed, affected teachers no longer have collective bargaining agreements.
ETFO lawyer Steven Barrett told labour board chair Bernard Fishbein that the bill was simply a mechanism to impose the contracts, but not agreements because nothing was negotiated by the boards and teachers.
"This is not like a collective agreement," he said. "This is not like a contract. This is not like a marriage or property right."
Fishbein attempted throughout the day to keep the hearing on course but will rule at some point during the hearing on whether collective bargaining agreements still exist after Bill 115's elimination.
"We are not here to decide how pissed off teachers are," Fishbein said to both legal teams. "We're here to determine if the union's memos advise illegal strikes."