London high school teachers plan to demonstrate against the “historic” changes made by Bill 115 Wednesday (Jan. 16).
The protests will take place at constituency offices of three area MPPs from 4-5 p.m.
According to Colleen Canon, president of Local 11 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), the protest against "an assault on democratic rights, the loss of free collective bargaining, and the continuing fight against Bill 115" was first going to be a day-long event, but was moved outside of school hours after a similar protest threatened by elementary teachers was ruled to be illegal by the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
“That (the OLRB ruling) is all the more reason why at this moment we have to stand up,” Canon said. “We see this as significant to workers’ rights for generations to come, not just for teachers or educational professionals.”
With 25 years in the classroom Canon recalls the two-week walkout of 1997 in protest of cuts made by then-premier Mike Harris. That walkout was ruled a political protest which did “no undue harm” to students.
“We live in very different times,” Canon said.
Teachers will protest at the offices of London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews, London West MPP Chris Bentley and Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman.
A larger rally is scheduled to coincide with the Liberal leadership convention Jan. 26 in Toronto.
Canon said the OSSTF provincial leadership holds out hope that a new premier will tear up the collective bargaining agreements imposed on teacher unions by Education Minister Laurel Broten earlier this month.
“We would hope for a willingness to work together.”
But she admits with Progressive Conservatives calling just as loudly for imposed contracts as the ruling Liberals, where to turn next becomes a political quandary for her membership as an apparent “anti-labour” sentiment grows in North America.
“It’s a great question,” she said. “It’s a grim picture right now but we’re hopeful. We understand the need for austerity, but we have to defend our collective bargaining rights. This is historic. It happened in Wisconsin and in B.C., and that was a Liberal government as well. There is a much bigger picture happening here than just us.”
She recalled one year almost to the day standing out in the cold protesting in support of Electro-Motive employees.
“I never would have dreamed a year ago that would be us,” she said. “It’s hard to believe this is coming from a Liberal government.”