Hamilton parents speak out on teacher protests

Parents of elementary school children have mixed feelings about the teacher strike taking place across Hamilton Monday morning.

Some say Bill 115 protests are necessary, others are inconvenienced

Teachers and supporters took to the streets of Hamilton Saturday to protest Bill 115. Elementary school teachers will be picketing at 21 schools across the city on Monday. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Elementary school teachers in Hamilton are set to walk off the job Monday morning and some parents in the city are divided over their support of the union or the government.

Some parents say teachers need a reality check in a volatile provincial economy — but others are steadfast in their support of unions as they protest Bill 115.

"I completely support the teachers because they've been stripped of their bargaining rights," said Noelle Allen, a mother of two who will have to stay home on Monday to watch her two children — one of whom has special needs.

Allen has lived in Nevada; a state she says was rife with problems because of its "right-to work" laws.

These laws ban requirements that non-union employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services. Supporters say they give workers more choice and boost economic growth, but critics say the real intent is to weaken organized labour by bleeding unions of money needed to bargain effectively with management.

The idea of bringing right to work laws into Ontario has recently been batted around by the provincial Progressive Conservatives.

"Living in Nevada at that time was really quite terrifying," Allen said. "The wages were very, very low, and the state was so broke. It was a race to the bottom."

Having lived through that, Allen says she has no choice but to support teachers as they protest Bill 115. The teachers say the legislation — which will impose new contracts on most of the province's educators in January — takes away their bargaining rights, reduces benefits and freezes wages.

"If we don't support people who stand up for this right, pretty soon no one will have it," Allen said. "I feel the government is being really heavy handed."

Making concessions

But not everyone feels that way. Parent Emmalene Pruden told CBC Hamilton she feels the government is wrong for removing collective bargaining rights, but teachers need to make more concessions in today's economy.

"We can't afford to pay them more," she said. "I understand teachers do a lot for our children, but expecting what we cannot afford goes against simple math — something these teachers should know how to do."

The provincial government appears to feel the same way. Premier Dalton McGuinty has argued that with Ontario facing a $14.4-billion deficit, the province can't afford pay hikes for teachers. The union has said teachers are not striking over pay, but in protest of Bill 115 itself and its implications for workers.

When speaking with reporters earlier this week, the premier said that if teachers cannot reach an agreement with the government, they should resolve their differences in court.

"They say they want to take us to court, so why don't we leave this matter to court, then?" McGuinty said.

"Why do we have to involve our students in this? I just don't think we do and nor do I think we should."

Seeing both sides

Lisa Hammond, president of the Hamilton chapter of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario told CBC Hamilton she feels public support is mixed on the issue.

"Our members do encounter some hostility," she said. "But we're getting a lot of support, too."

Hammond said things like extra-curricular activities could be absent from schools for quite some time. "Especially if collective agreements are imposed upon us," she said.

"We want our rights back. And I think we'll get them."

Teachers will be picketing at 22 sites on Monday, running from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. CBC Hamilton will be covering the strike live from the picket lines on Cbc.ca/Hamilton. You can also look for updates on Twitter @CBCHamilton.

Here is a list of the 22 sites teachers will be picketing on Monday:

  • Rousseau
  • Sir William Osler
  • MPP Ted McMeekin's Office
  • Mountain View
  • Parkdale
  • Woodward
  • Memorial City
  • Prince of Wales
  • Queen Mary
  • Cathy Wever
  • Billy Green
  • Janet Lee
  • Ridgemount
  • Franklin Road
  • G. L. Armstrong
  • Bennetto
  • Central
  • Dr. Davey
  • Hess Street
  • Dalewood
  • G. R. Allan
  • Earl Kitchener