Teachers deliver 98 percent strike vote

RAINBOW DISTRICT—Two teacher union members, representing elementary and secondary school level teachers of the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB), have resoundingly voted in favour of strike action. However, for now everything will continue as it always has with teachers in Rainbow board classrooms, say teacher union representatives.

“We did hold a strike vote on Monday evening (September 24th), with the vote being 98 percent of members in favour of a strike,” Barb Blasutti, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) of the RDSB, told the Recorder last Friday.

However, Ms. Blasutti said this does not mean contract negotiations with the RDSB will not continue. “Absolutely, we are still at the bargaining table with local school board representatives,” said Ms. Blasutti. “A strike vote doesn’t mean teachers are going on strike, we have absolutely no plans of doing this at this time. This vote was just part of the normal bargaining process under the Ontario Labour Relations Act (OLRA). We are and will continue to follow the law and the OLRA.”

Ms. Blasutti said the strike vote, “gives the local unions a mandate for the future. The 98 percent vote in favour of a strike is a measure which indicates our anger and concern with the government’s interference in the normal bargaining process.”

“This is not about cuts in pay, it’s about the unwarranted interference of the government in the teacher-board bargaining process,” continued Ms. Blasutti. “Bill 115 was legislated before the bargaining process with the schoolboards could be completed and was imposed by the premier of Ontario (Dalton McGuinty).”

“The 98 percent strike vote is an indication of how angered the teachers are with Bill 115, they (province) have woken a sleeping giant,” said Ms. Blasutti. “This bill is not just a three to teachers, it is a threat against other public sector workers. It is a threat to all working people in the province.”

The unprecedented legislation is Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act. It cuts wages and sick days and gives provincial education minister Laurel Broten the power to send teachers back to work or stop them from going on strike.

Members of the Rainbow board local of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), also held a strike vote recently. Local union president James Clyke reported that more than 90 percent of members were in favour of striking, adding that, like the elementary school teachers, there are currently no plans for teachers to walk off the job. The Recorder has learned that in the past few days the OSSTF has applied for conciliation in the bargaining negotiations.

“Yes, the ETFO is asking teachers to take a pause from voluntary efforts involving schools,” said Ms. Blasutti. “But this is not on teaching and ensuring safety of the students. What we are asking is for teachers to take a pause when they are to be involved on a voluntary basis, extracurricular activities.” She stressed, “Locally, we are still at the bargaining-negotiating table with the school boards.”

Dena Morrison, vice-chair of the RDSB, was quoted in the Sudbury Star September 27, 2012 edition as saying the strike votes clearly reflect the frustration teachers are feeling with the province. She said the board all along felt that the legislation was premature, as local bargaining had just started and will continue. And, an impasse hadn’t been reached in the negotiations thus far. She also said the board is not concerned about the teachers going on strike, saying that strike votes are a regular part of contract bargaining.

Tom Sasvari