Hamilton's public teachers' unions are holding strike votes next week despite the province passing recent legislation forcing them into a two-year contract.
Local members of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) will vote on whether to strike.
“The legislation doesn't actually say no strike. It just allows the minister, with her incredible powers, to intervene on whatever matters she deems fit,” said Chantal Mancini, chair of the OSSTF local 21 bargaining unit. “We're going to follow the rules.”
The province passed legislation in late August that stripped Ontario's public school teachers of their collective bargaining rights, froze wages for two years and cut benefits.
The government said it was necessary to prevent contracts from rolling over into September, which would cost the province too much money.
The local OSSTF will join units across Ontario in continuing with “the process available to us with the Labour Relations Act,” Mancini said.
Local public high school teachers will vote on Sept. 26. Local ETFO members will vote on Sept. 24.
“It gives our bargaining team a mandate to go forward,” said Lisa Hammond, president of the Hamilton-Wentworth unit of the ETFO. “It also sends a really strong message to government that our members are serious.”
Some of Hamilton's elementary teachers have withdrawn from extracurricular activities in protest this week. The union encourages it, but those individual teachers are deciding on their own to withdraw their volunteerism, Hammond said.
Teachers' extracurricular participation ranges from homework clubs and chess clubs to fundraising and sports teams, she said. These are activities the teachers do on their own time and with no pay.
“They're doing it with regret. There's a lot of anger out there,” Hammond said of withdrawing extracurricular activities. “It's anger directed toward the government. The feeling is the government has closed the door to all other avenues we have.”
The teachers withdrawing from those activities changes from day to day, said Tim Simmons, chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.
“It's different at every school,” he said. “Some schools are carrying on business as usual. Some have withdrawn support for all extracurricular activities and some are on partial extracurricular activities.”
Since the work is volunteer, all the board can do is encourage principals to keep parents informed, he said.
“We'll react to the changing environment as best we can.”
The public board has negotiation dates scheduled into November with its employee groups, including teachers.
“Overall, we're just trying to keep things calm and keep things positive," Simmons said. "That's critical right across the system.”
Scott Dicker, a school council member at Ray Lewis elementary school, says teachers have withdrawn from extracurricular activities there.
Aside from an environmental club they wanted to join, it hasn't directly impacted his two daughters yet, he said.
But “I know through other parents that there is definitely some disappointment,” he said. “It's a touchy situation, to put it lightly.”
If the action continues, the biggest impact will likely come in October for meet-the-teacher night, he said.
“We're taking a wait-and-see approach.”
Local Catholic teachers are represented by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, which signed a memorandum of understanding with the government in the summer.
The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board is currently negotiating with its teachers, as well as the rest of its employee groups, chair Pat Daly said.
“We expect those discussions to go well.”