Hamilton teachers will wear black to protest Bill 115

Local high school teachers will wear black Wednesday to protest controversial legislation that imposes a wage freeze and bans strikes for two years.
Teachers in Hamilton, shown here at a recent Labour Day parade, are protesting new legislation that imposes a wage freeze and bans their ability to strike for two years. Many Hamilton high school teachers will wear black on Wednesday. (Flanery Dean/CBC)

Hamilton high school teachers will wear black on Wednesday to protest new legislation that freezes their wages, bans strikes for two years and ends their ability to bank sick days.

The Ontario legislature passed Bill 115 Tuesday morning, which imposes a contract on elementary and secondary teachers across the province, as well as 50,000 support staff.

Many local public high school teachers will wear black in protest, said Chantal Mancini, chair of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federations (OSSTF) local 21 bargaining unit.

The OSSTF has also asked its members to withdraw from volunteer and extracurricular activities on Wednesday.

Most teachers are feeling "demoralized" and "as if somehow they have no rights," Mancini said.

"A lot of teaching is based on goodwill. Teachers volunteer, they go above and beyond. You can't legislate goodwill."

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is urging teachers to not participate in school-based or system-level meetings on Mondays, and dubbed the protest "McGuinty Mondays."

In a statement, ETFO president Sam Hammond said the pause in voluntary activities and introduction of McGuinty Mondays are the initial steps in an escalating protest strategy.

"We do not take this action lightly. Ontarians and the government need to know that you cannot take away the democratic rights of working people simply to fulfill a political party's agenda or ideology," said Hammond, a former Hamilton teacher.

On Tuesday, Liberals and Progressive Conservatives voted in favour of the "Putting Students First Act." The New Democrats voted against. The vote with 82 for and 15 against.

"I think we're on track, Speaker," Premier Dalton McGuinty told the House. "We're doing what we need to do and putting the needs of students and families first."

'Sad day'

Mancini said teachers are angry about the anti-strike legislation.

"It's a sad day when your government attacks your rights," she said.

Unions representing most teachers say it violates their constitutional rights and have vowed to fight it in court.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has also complained about the bill, saying it's unconstitutional and undemocratic.

Education Minister Laurel Broten says she can't stop anyone from challenging the legislation, but she believes it will stand up in court.

"If this bill passes - and we are hopeful that it will - and it is challenged in court, we will defend it as being constitutional, and we take the position that it's reasonable and justified under the circumstances," she said before the vote.

The new teacher and support staff contracts imposed by Bill 115 would help eliminate Ontario's $15-billion deficit.

'Young teachers bear the brunt'

Richard Moll, department head of history at Sir John A. MacDonald Secondary School in downtown Hamilton, is concerned about the effect the legislation will have on this generation of teachers over the long term.

"It's unfair that responsible, educated adults going into the profession are bearing the brunt of years of misspending," said Moll, who has been teaching for 28 years.

Moll cited an "extremely talented" young teacher in his department who will suffer a wage freeze as a consequence of the legislation.

"She and many of her colleagues can't get a permanent position, which means she doesn't get benefits," he said.

Ultimately, said Moll, the province is going to lose a generation of young, talented teachers to other provinces.

Moll said that regardless of the government's actions, teachers will continue to "serve their young charges and their parents."

Electoral consequences

He also had a warning for the McGuinty government.

"Teachers are responsible for the election of the McGuinty government. Teachers will choose another government next election," he said.

The affect may be even more immediate.

The Liberals may have paid the price for the legislation in two important by-elections last week.

The government held on to the riding of Vaughan, but came in third in Kitchener-Waterloo, denying them a majority government.

The NDP picked up the riding instead and got a lot of help from the unions in getting out the vote.


With files from CBC's Mike Crawley and the Canadian Press