Patricia Lambert holds up a sign at a rally outside MPP Michael Gravelle’s office on Sept. 14, 2012.
Education workers say they’re out to teach the minority Liberal-led government a lesson.
More than a dozen teachers and support staff protested outside the offices of MPPs Bill Mauro (Lib., Thunder Bay – Atikokan) and Michael Gravelle (Lib., Thunder Bay – Superior North). MPPs returned to the legislature a week early in order to debate the controversial Putting Students First Act, which many have argued violates education workers’ right to bargain.
The legislation, which passed last week, forces education unions to reach a deal by Aug. 31. The deal would freeze education wages, ban strikes and lockouts for two years, force three unpaid days off, stop unused sick days from being cashed out at retirement and cut the annual amount of sick days in half to 10.
It’s based on an agreement reached earlier in the summer with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association.
Many who attended the rally called the legislation “draconian” and “wrong.”
Patricia Lambert has taught for 43 years and isn’t a stranger at a rally. She said the trend politicians are setting has her concerned about the wellbeing for unions.
“It’s not about teachers it’s about union breaking,” Lambert said. “I have children who are teachers and I want them to feel good about their profession. I have grandchildren who will be in the system too.”
Lambert said the government is first attacking the teachers but then will go on to attack police, firefighters, nurses and any other union.
Ellen Chambers, local president of the Elementary Teachers Federation, said the government is going to learn their lesson when the unions go back to the polls.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure they know that we’re not happy and we’re going to keep it up until the next election,” Chambers said. “The lesson will come at the next election because we won’t be voting for Liberals again.”
She called the bill a slap in the face and hurt all the efforts teachers and support workers have done to support the Liberals. Premier Dalton McGuinty had promised to honour collective bargain but Chambers said he has since gone back on his word.
Gravelle said the decision to vote in the bill wasn’t politically motivated.
“We’re in different times and we’re not in the same circumstances we were six, or seven years ago where we can provide the kinds of benefits they expect,” Gravelle said. “I asked the teachers to try their best to understand that though I am conscious of their strong level of anger. We have a huge deficit and we need to take the kinds of measures we have to make sure students can be assured that the school year will continue without any interruption.”
Many have criticized the actions of the government in handling the situation saying they wanted to gain favour in the two by-elections in southern Ontario. Gravelle said that simply isn’t true.
Gravelle also attended the rally and didn’t shy away from the many protesters who voiced their opposition to the local MPP. He said he knows that the relationship between the government and the union is on shaky ground but hoped to one-day repair the relationship.
But it wasn’t only education workers who voiced out against the decision.
A large group of Grade 12 Superior Collegiate and Vocational Institute students rallied in opposition to the bill earlier this week.
Paul Caccamo, Thunder Bay-based president of Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation District 6A who represents about 300 members, said he understands the student’s frustrations and knows that students look forward to being able to do extracurricular activities that are run by volunteers.
Sue Doughty-Smith, president of Education Assistants, said the bill affects them the same as teachers except the salary level.
“I think it’s terrible that we have had all those rights taken away,” Doughty-Smith said. “We weren’t even talking strike votes. We weren’t in any position to even go out of the normal realms of negotiations. I’m not sure where this came from. It’s devastating and a horrible thing to do to all workers.”
She said she hopes the government and the local MPPs listen to this protest and know that they are angry.
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