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Hamilton teachers feel 'demoralized and attacked' by McGuinty

Hamilton teachers unions are frustrated after two weeks of hearing from Ontario Liberals that they could be legislated into signing an agreement with the province.
Premier Dalton McGuinty reiterated earlier this week that teachers need to sign contracts before the start of September. (CBC)

Hamilton teachers unions are frustrated after two weeks of hearing from Ontario Liberals that they could be legislated into signing an agreement with the province.

The chair of the local bargaining unit for public high school teachers says teachers were bullied and attacked by recent remarks made by Premier Dalton McGuinty and Education Minister Laurel Broten that the province may force labour peace on them before the start of the school year.

"Essentially, it's bullying," said Chantal Mancini, president of the teachers bargaining unit for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) district 21. "Negotiations take time."

Hamilton teachers, she said, feel "demoralized and attacked" by the comments.

The province reached an agreement with Ontario's Catholic teachers earlier this summer. It also reached an agreement with the Association of Professional Student Services Personnel. On Thursday, it announced that it had reached an agreement with the 10,000-member French teachers' union.

But other major unions — particularly the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and OSSTF — have rejected a provincial deal.

They insist they will instead bargain locally with boards. Contracts for the majority of elementary and secondary teachers —including those in Hamilton — expire on Aug. 31.

If a deal isn't reached by the end of August, old contracts automatically roll over Sept. 1, giving teachers raises the province can't afford as it faces a $15-billion deficit this year, McGuinty said this week.

In Hamilton, the OSSTF teachers bargaining unit has been meeting with the local school board since May and looks forward to continuing that, Mancini said. That is the process it prefers.

"We are committed to bargaining with our school board," she said. 

For its part, the board will continue with that process as well, said Tim Simmons, chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.

"All sides want to reach an agreement that serves students best."

If legislation happens, it should be as a last resort, said Patrick Daly, chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board.

The Catholic board is dealing with several unions this month, as contracts with all of its employee groups expire at the end of August.

"I'm very respectful of the negotiation process and I believe in coming together and working out an arrangement," he said. "I always think that's the best way."

Talk of legislation frustrates Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), who echoed Mancini's disappointment.

Legislation, he said, would be "a blatant interference in the collective bargaining process."

ETFO units will take strike votes throughout September and "we will go from there in terms of our next steps," he said.

Until then, "we're going to go ahead and do what we said we'd always do, which is move forward and negotiate with school boards."