About a dozen elementary school students were inside Winchester Public School December 20, while 120 Upper Canada District School Board employed public school teachers and occasional teachers marched outside.
Winchester was one of the picket locations set up across the board as part of the one-day strike action by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario.
The Winchester picket line included teachers from all public elementary schools in both South Dundas and North Dundas as well as a handful of other schools.
Nancy Jordan, picket captain and teacher at Winchester Public School had expected to see about 50 teachers on the picket line, which they well exceeded.
UCDSB elected to keep schools open during the one-day strike.
“We believed that it was our moral obligation to have safe and reliable care available for our students,” said David Coombs, superintendent. He reported that the schools were open and the busses were running for the those who could not find alternative care for their children. About five percent of students across the board attended school last Thursday, although they did not have regular school programming as their teachers were walking picket lines.
“We did this to support our parents,” said UCDSB chair Greg Pietersma.
While the teachers walked the picket line, Pietersma and other board officials held a press conference where they discussed the motion passed by board trustees at their most recent meeting that calls on Education Minister Laurel Broten to retain a special mediator to facilitate the provincial bargaining process.
“I am concerned that the minister is going to wait for the December 31 deadline for contracts to be negotiated and then blame us, the school board trustees, for not negotiating those contracts by that deadline,” said Pietersma. “That would be disingenuous at best.”
“Local bargaining works. The ministry needs to get out of our way and let us do that,” he said “Trustees, the employer, should have been given a better hand to deal with their employees – the minister should have stayed in the back room and let us negotiate.”
“Our board believes in the collective bargaining process. What the ministry has done has created an untenable situation for us to operate,” said Pietersma. “She (Broten) does not have a stake in this. We’re the employer and we have had no opportunity to participate. School boards have lost because the provincial education ministry has not allowed the boards to modernize the contracts.”
Nicole Touchette, grade 7/8 french teacher at North Dundas Intermediate School spoke on behalf of the ETFO members picketing.
“Bill 115 is the real problem,” she said explaining that it is the impediment to local talks. “We want to send a clear message. Repeal Bill 115. Our members will not accept this government imposed bill. We are standing up for democracy.”
“We are teachers. We chose this profession because we are committed to our students and we lead by example,” she said explaining that the looming threat of a government imposed agreement is tantamount to bullying. “If we are bullied, what message does that send to students?”
“We’re all frustrated. It’s time the minister assumed some of the leadership she said she would offer so that we can get our schools back to work,” said Pietersma. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”