Teachers protest a MPP John Yakabuski's office 0
Renfrew County public teachers listen Friday as Christian Sell, first vice-president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation District 28, addresses this rally outside the offices of Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP John Yakabuski. Area teachers were protesting the passage of Bill 115 by the Ontario Legislature.
Renfrew County public school teachers opposed to provincial legislation that restricts their right to strike and freezes their pay took their case to the steps of the riding’s MPP Friday.
Although John Yakabuski was not in Pembroke, that didn’t stop over 60 teachers and supporters from gathering outside his constituency office on Isabella Street to voice their disapproval of Bill 115.
“It is an unprecedented and unwarranted attack on workers rights,” said Allison Ryan, president of the Renfrew County Teachers’ Local of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), which provincially represents 60,000 public high school teachers and school staff. “We intend to fight this. This is a fight for the future for all workers.”
Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act, gives teacher and school staff zero per cent increases, partially freezes the salary grid, eliminates sick day banks and bans strikes for two years. Teachers unions argue the bill goes well beyond these measures to give the provincial cabinet, rather than the legislature, the right to restrict strikes and lockouts, to extend the bill beyond two years and to approve or change contracts negotiated with local school boards.
The county’s public teachers were hoping to send a message to all MPPs, including Mr. Yakabuski, that this legislation is not only illegal but unconstitutional, according to Christian Sell, first vice-president of the OSSTF District 28. Addressing the rally, Mr. Sell spoke as if the MPP was in the office.
“It is with profound sadness and confusion that we stand here today,” Mr. Sell said adding Mr. Yakabuski had cast his vote in favour of Bill 115. “How can you and your party support a Liberal agenda? If the Conservatives wanted a wage freeze, why did you not negotiate a wage freeze?”
Bill 115 is based on a deal already negotiated and signed between the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) and the Liberal government under Premier Dalton McGuinty. The government is bringing the tough measures in hopes of slashing Ontario’s $15 billion annual deficit. The bill was passed by both Liberal and Progressive Conservative members while the New Democrats voted against it.
“Where did the Liberal-Conservative alliance get the mandate to remove workers’ rights,“ Mr. Sell stated.
Teachers unions are urging their members to protest the legislation by withdrawing their support for extra-curricular activities and wearing black to school. Mr. Sell added it is up to the individual teachers at this point as to what activities will not be supervised.
Given the teachers’ traditional support in the past few elections for Premier McGuinty, Ms. Ryan admitted there is a feeling of buyer’s remorse with this government which, she felt, has betrayed teachers.
“We did put a lot of time and energy into the last provincial election to get the Liberals re-elected,” she said. “At no time was the stripping away of our collective agreements and legislating away our rights was part of their platform.”
However, the county’s public board teachers should be equally upset with the Conservatives and Mr. Yakabuski for going along with passage of the bill in a minority situation.
“Without the Conservatives this bill wouldn’t have passed,” added Ms. Ryan.
Organizers could not say if another rally would be staged at a later date.
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist