BARRY’S BAY – Renfrew County has dipped its hands into the endless amount of rotating strikes against Bill 115, and on December 13, their opinions were heard, seen, and maybe even understood by the Barry’s Bay community.
Those who drove down the main street in Barry’s Bay could see them marching along side Zurakowski Park.
Signs were slung over their shoulders with slogans such as “negotiate, don’t legislate.”
Teachers spent the day battling the cold in order to show those in the community what Bill 115 is really all about.
According to Sam Hammond, president of Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, it is being perceived as an issue with a wage freeze, which is not the case at all.
Hammond stated that the premier and minister are emphasising the point that the issue is concerning a wage freeze.
“That is not the truth,” Hammond said.
The strike was seen as an opportunity to put the issue front and center, and so that the students, parents and media have a better understanding of why they won’t step down.
“This is about standing up for democratic [rights],” Hammond said.
The teachers in the past have negotiated with the school boards on the contracts that they sign every two to four years. However, this time around something changed.
The legislation altered the contract, it now makes the negotiation between the school board and the teachers shift to a negotiation with the province.
The law will be in effect for two years, but it can be extended once the time has come to an end.
Bill 115 has several components, some of them include a wage freeze, which is not the issue the teachers are emphasising, and another is their number of sick days, which drops from 20 to 10.
Teachers no longer have the right to bank their sick days, keeping the ‘extras’ from year to year until they need them.
Employees, including the principals, must take three non-paid sick days each year.
Among many other key components, teachers lose their ability to strike and lock-out during the time of the law they are trying to enforce.
Action will be taken if there is discussion concerning a lock-out or a strike.
The teachers decided to react to the new list of rules the best way they thought possible: with a strike.
In order to show the province how Bill 115 makes them feel the teachers have responded with “work to rule.”
This means that no extracurricular activities are taking place, no acting as volunteers in charge when the principal is absent, there are to be no field trips, no play days, no parent interviews outside of instructional days, and the list goes on.
Kathy Eisner, Grade 4 and 5 teacher at Killaloe Public School, was chosen as one of the teachers to speak to the media regarding the situation.
“We think it’s an attack on rights, not just for us but all of Ontario,” she said. “It’s something that has caused problems in the education system.”
Eisner added that this is not only affecting the teachers in Ontario, but is also conflicting with the students.
Teachers were not the only ones expressing their opinions on the subject. Educational assitants, support counsellors, and other varieties of employees under the school board have decided to participate.
“We all believe in this action strongly,” Eisner said.
The students at Madawaska Valley District High School (MVDHS) also believe in action for a reaction.
Signs made and megaphones in hands, the students stood up and marched out of their classrooms to show that they support their teachers during this time of frustration and confusion.
It was 9:00 a.m. and anyone driving by would see and hear “Kill the Bill” being chanted by more than 100 high school students.
Forest Poff-Smith was one of the student organizers, and he said the turnout was much better than he had expected.
Poff-Smith explained to the students how the work force is split into two different groups; one is considered essential services, while the other is non-essential.
Story continues in the December 19, 2012 issue of The Valley Gazette.