Hamilton public elementary school teachers to strike Monday

Hamilton-Wentworth elementary, occasional and early childhood educators will hold a one-day legal strike to protest Bill 115 on Monday.
Hundreds of students gathered outside Queen's Park on Thursday to voice their concerns about the ongoing labour strife in the province's schools. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Hamilton's elementary school teachers announced Friday morning that they are taking part in a one-day strike on Monday.

Elementary school teachers in the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) are holding the legal strike to protest the controversial Bill 115. Rian McLaughlin, president of the occasional teacher local, told CBC Hamilton that teachers will be picketing at "about 20 sites" throughout the city, including "schools that are most visible" and MPP Ted McMeekin's office.

"This isn't about money, it's about process," McLaughlin said. "Just like anyone, we dislike ultimatums."

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), says education minister Laurel Broten hasn't helped local school boards in pursuing fair negotiations with teachers. 

"She can end the chaos she has created by repealing Bill 115 and letting local bargaining proceed without interference," Hammond said.

Lisa Hammond, president of the Hamilton-Wentworth teacher's local, said teachers do not take this action lightly.

"The loss of local autonomy is very destructive for a local bargaining process that has worked well for decades," Hammond said.

Occasional teachers and early childhood educators represented by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) will also be participating in the strike action.

The HWDSB notified parents of the strike Friday morning with a bulletin on their web page.

John Malloy, director of education for the HWDSB, told CBC Hamilton the board had been made aware of the strike by the provincial ETFO office at 8 a.m. on Friday. "Though we had heard rumours beforehand that it was going to be Monday," he said.

The board is asking parents to make alternate arrangements for their children on December 17.

"We're focusing on communication right now," Molloy said. "This is a challenge for everyone involved. There are emotions on both sides."

The bulletin states that Parenting and Family Literacy Centres will remain open for their normally scheduled hours, and childcare services offered in schools will continue to operate for students already registered in the program. However, a parent or guardian must be present with children at the centre.

The governing Liberals have the power to end the strikes, but Premier Dalton McGuinty has said they won't intervene unless the walkouts go beyond one day.

When speaking with reporters earlier this week, the premier said that if the teachers cannot reach 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."

The government has said it has legal documents ready to stop any strikes should they stretch beyond a single school day.

The premier 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, which gives the government the power to stop strikes and impose a new collective agreement on staff.

Crossing guards are still scheduled to report for work on Monday for catholic and public schools, regardless if they are open for classes.