TORONTO - Public high school teachers and support staff in Ontario will not take part in one-day rotating strikes planned by their colleagues in elementary schools, but they will withdraw from extra curricular activities starting next week.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation said Monday that its 60,000 members will step up their protest against legislation that freezes most of their wages by showing up for work 15 minutes before classes and leaving immediately after their scheduled duties at the end of the day.
"OSSTF at this point is not prepared to take any full withdrawal of services, so we will not be participating in any of these rotating strikes," union president Ken Coran said after meeting with 300 members of local bargaining units from across Ontario.
"They will be in the classrooms every day fulfilling their duties...and making sure that the students are safe."
The union has always said it would accept a wage freeze, but feels Bill 115 erodes the teachers' democratic rights for collective bargaining, added Coran.
"Our members are fed up, we’re tired of playing games," he said.
"It would be nice if the government would just listen to what we said: 'We are accepting of a wage freeze.' Let’s repeal Bill 115 and this problem will go away."
Later on Monday evening, a crowd of teachers and their supporters gathered for a rally outside Toronto District School Board headquarters.
Earlier Monday, Education Minister Laurel Broten lashed out at teachers' union leaders, saying they seemed set on strike action and are determined not to allow local contract agreements with a real wage freeze.
"It’s the union leaders — not our teachers — who refuse to accept our fiscal realities," said Broten.
"We would like to see our union leaders climb down from the precipice on which they are now standing and re-engage in local conversations. I am asking the union leadership to choose improvements for the kids over improvements for themselves."
Under Bill 115, the unions and school boards have until Dec. 31 to reach locally negotiated contracts, which must be approved by Broten, but the government can simply impose its own contracts on teachers starting in the new year.
The OSSTF cut off talks last week after teachers rejected local agreements with two school boards, and cancelled future ratification votes.
"The OSSTF leadership is determined to undermine any local bargaining and is now focused exclusively on strike action," charged Broten.
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario is promising to give 72-hours notice before it takes strike action, but Broten said they walked out of contract talks with the province nine months ago.
The actions by the teachers’ union bosses show the fight "was never about bargaining locally," but is about their refusal to accept a real pay freeze, added Broten.
The unions have gone to court to challenge Bill 115, which freezes the wages for most teachers while allowing younger ones to still move up the salary grid.
The bill is modelled on an agreement the province reached with unions representing Catholic teachers, which was also accepted by Francophone teachers.
The government wants teachers, nurses, civil servants and all workers in the broader public sector to accept a two-year wage freeze to help trim a deficit of nearly $15 billion, but so far has only passed legislation affecting teachers.
The legislation also gives Broten the power to impose a contract and stop the strikes, something she guaranteed parents will happen if necessary.
"We will do that if and when the circumstance presents itself where that is a reality," she said.
"At this point it is a threat."
The Progressive Conservatives said the teachers were clearly ignoring the almost daily threats from Broten because the minister won't use the powers she has now to prevent strikes and put parents' minds at ease.
"Why should parents have to wait 72 hours," asked PC education critic Lisa MacLeod.
"The minister of education can stop this in its tracks today, start fining union leaders and unions who violate the act immediately, and we could have all this behind us."
The New Democrats have called Bill 115 "wrong-headed" and warned it would lead to expensive court challenges that will cost taxpayers even more in the long run if the government loses.
"The McGuinty Liberals promised parents that Bill 115 would bring stability to our schools," said NDP education critic Peter Tabuns.
"Instead, it’s created turmoil in classrooms across Ontario and an expensive court battle that will cost Ontario millions."