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Militant teachers and their unions. (News in Brief: Canada).

Toronto--Spring 2003 in Ontario has been a time of confrontations between teachers and their unions on one side, and boards of education, trustees, and the Ontario provincial government on the other, continuing five years of confrontation. This time over 69,000 Catholic elementary students in Toronto were Out of school for a number of days in May and June as their 3,600 teachers were locked Out by the school board, after the teachers initiated work-to-rule tactics. At issue were salaries and out-of-class supervision duties including supervising field trips and graduations. The teachers were looking for a non-negotiable 10% pay hike over two years, a raise that would push their salaries to $77,000 after 11 years of teaching. The school board was offering 6.5% over the same period. Ontario school teachers are the highest paid teachers in North America.

Throughout Ontario a number of teacher unions, public and Catholic, were in legal strike positions, with others threatening some kind of action if they were not offered contracts to their liking.

Most everyone would agree that teachers, for the most part, have difficult jobs; at the same time, they do receive excellent salaries and benefits. And they have the clout of strong teachers' unions, although it is difficult to determine if the unions are backing teachers' demands, or teachers are coerced by union activism.

Teachers are bullied to submit to the union's tactics. In Barry, ON, one Catholic teacher was fined $1000 and suspended from her union for two years (i.e., blacklisted) for having performed an extra-curricular activity. The same attitude led the union to file a bad faith complaint with the Labour Relations Board, charging the lock-out was illegal and demanding $14 million in retroactive salaries.

On March 10, 2003, in an ugly "ambush" of Ontario's Education Minister, Elizabeth Witmer, members of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) jeered at the Minister as she attempted to answer questions in a closed-door session at the request of the teachers. As she left the meeting unable to initiate dialogue, OECTA members surrounded her, pushed her, threw water on her and punched her in the arm. Two months later, OECTA had not yet issued a report on the incident, although OECTA President Kathy McVean who described the incident as "regrettable" only after a huge public outcry, had promised one.

Also in March 2003, OECTA's political action chairman in York sent out a memo to teachers looking for those "who wish to be released from their teaching duties" to work on Liberal (election) campaigns in the area. McVean compared this political leave to pregnancy leave. Huh? What about the students who, the teachers claim, are their priority?

The same OECTA is supporting an Ontario Liberal campaign on "working families", by supplying "thousands of dollars" to the campaign (McVean's words).

Another example of OECTA's political partisanship was that it intervened with the Attorney General of Ontario in a bid to have the government drop charges against John Clarke, a leader of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty who was up on charges of counselling to participate in a riot and counselling to assault police. McVean, in her letter to the AG said: "... Such actions are often the only way marginalized people are able to make their grievances known" (Tor. Star, l8 May, 2003). Is OECTA recommending, or, at the very least, condoning violence as a way to negotiate demands?

As a result of continual work stoppages in the schools, the Ontario government is working on a new bill which would ban all teacher strikes. A similar effort several years ago failed. On June 3 the Tory government passed back-to-work legislation, ending the lockout. It is clear that the teachers and the government need to find a just and equitable way to work through their disputes. The education of students has to be the top priority for both sides. At present, it looks as if the students' needs have been entirely forgotten.
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Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Jul 1, 2003
Words:659
Previous Article:Census figures on religion. (News in Brief: Canada).
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