Liberals choose to impose new teacher contracts
TORONTO—Ontario’s governing Liberals announced today they have imposed new contracts on tens of thousands of teachers and education workers in public schools across the province—a move union leaders called a “disgraceful use of government power.”
Education minister Laurel Broten said she used Bill 115 to impose the new collective agreements on elementary and high school teachers, to freeze wages, and stop strikes as the government battles a $14.4-billion deficit.
However, Broten said the province will repeal Bill 115 once the contracts are imposed, recognizing the controversial law has become “a lightning rod.”
“It has achieved what it was put in place to do.”
Broten blamed the escalating labour dispute on the teachers’ unions, saying their leaders lacked the will to engage in meaningful negotiations.
Union leaders, however, vowed to continue their fight.
“You cannot expect that it will be business as usual in schools going into the new year,” said Sam Hammond, head of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.
“You cannot legislate goodwill and you cannot impose goodwill upon my members,” he stressed.
“You will not erase the stain of Bill 115 by simply repealing it after it’s been used.”
Teachers’ unions had warned that the Liberals would be asking for trouble if they forced new agreements on their members, who have said they will launch political protests to fight it.
Broten warned any strike action will be illegal until agreements expire Aug 31, 2014.
Elementary teachers already have staged one-day strikes across the province in protest of the law.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation said it’s not planning any walkouts right now, but it’s not ruling anything out.
OSSTF president Ken Coran has said his members already have voted to stage one-day political protests if the government imposes a new contract on them.
He’s planning to meet with local presidents Jan. 9 to discuss what their next steps will be.
The province managed to reach a deal before the Dec. 31 deadline with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents about 55,000 workers, including educational assistants, early childhood educators, instructors, custodians, librarians, and secretaries.
The Liberals have argued they can’t afford pay hikes for teachers because they need the money to keep classes small and roll out all-day kindergarten while also battling the deficit.
They point to deals they reached with Catholic and Francophone teachers over the summer as proof they’ve negotiated deals that work for both sides.
But the unions, including CUPE Ontario, say the law violates their constitutional rights and have vowed to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court.