By Barb McKay
Bluewater elementary teachers have demonstrated to the province how new legislation is impacting them by taking a strike vote, according to the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario Bluewater president.
Nancy Lawler said a large majority of the ETFO Bluewater’s 800 public elementary school teachers came out last Thursday and voted 97 per cent in favour of a strike mandate.
“That sends a pretty strong message to our government and local board that we’re serious about this,” she said. “We’re hearing from teachers about how unbelievable this legislation is and how it’s impacting them. They’re frustrated.”
The legislation in question is Bill 115, Putting Students First Act, introduced by the Ontario Ministry of Education last month. The legislation freezes wages; imposes cuts to scheduled pay increases for teachers who have gained experience or additional education; and cuts sick days by 50 per cent. The legislation was handed down before many boards had completed their collective bargaining agreements and restricts teacher unions from taking strike action.
Teachers in a number of boards across the province, including Bluewater, have staged protests, including a temporary halt to extra-curricular activities on Mondays. It is unclear, however, what the reaction would be if the ETFO Bluewater members followed through on their strike mandate.
“We’re not sure how the government would respond if we were to implement work to rule,” Lawler said.
High school students in Wingham and Goderich waged protests out front of their schools earlier this week.
“It’s not being directed at the teachers, it’s directed at the government,” Lawler said. “It’s an excellent lesson in democracy and students are participating in that and that’s great to see.”
Lawler said there are still eight or nine collective agreements that need to be addressed that affect EFTO Bluewater members. There are negotiation dates scheduled for Oct. 5 and 19 and Lawler hopes progress can be made.
“We’re eager to get down to business,” she said.