Ontario's public elementary teachers will stage a "one-day political protest" on Friday in response to the provincial government’s move to impose contracts on them.
A statement from the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) issued Wednesday says that its members voted overwhelmingly last month in favour of launching a one-day protest if the government used contentious legislation to impose contracts.
The union says that when Education Minister Laurel Broten announced last week that the government would impose contracts, the die was cast.
"Our members voted overwhelmingly back in the fall to protest if the government imposes a contracted," said Lisa Hammond, president of ETFO's Hamilton-Wentworth Teacher local.
"The government has imposed a contract on us, so we're going to do just that."
'We don't see that as an illegal strike. We see this a political protest.' —Lisa Hammond, president of ETFO's Hamilton-Wentworth Teacher local
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board responded Wednesday afternoon, indicating its elementary schools would be closed on Friday.
"Without teachers in our schools, it will be impossible to maintain a safe environment, so we're cancelling classes and transportation for our elementary schools," said board chair Tim Simmons.
"It's one-day only and we're going to provide students, families and stakeholders with updates as things progress."
Classes will resume on Monday, he added.
The elementary teachers had launched a wave of rotating, day-long strikes in December, in protest against Bill 115, the legislation that gave the government the power to impose contracts.
Walkout would be illegal: McGuinty
On Wednesday evening, Premier Dalton McGuinty held a news conference warning ETFO members that if they are not in school on Friday, they will be participating in an "illegal" strike action.
"A strike on Friday would be an illegal strike," McGuinty said.
"I know teachers are law-abiding. I know they do not want to break the law. And I am urging them not to."
The premier said it is the government’s "full expectation that teachers will be in school on Friday and every day in keeping with their employment obligations."
To prevent a protest from proceeding, McGuinty said the government will go to the Ontario Labour Relations Board with an application in an attempt to "prevent the threatened illegal strike activity."
"We don't see that as an illegal strike," Hammond said. "We see this a political protest."
"Should the issue of any kind of legal action rise from the government, we'll have to deal with that at that time."
Secondary school teachers plans 'day of action' too
Late Wednesday evening, the union representing 60,000 secondary school teachers in the province said it was also going to take its anger to the streets.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation said in a news release it intends to ask its membership to hold its own " day of political protest" next Wednesday, Jan. 16.