Public high school teacher strikes illegal, classes to resume
OSSTF protest on the front lawn of Queen's Park on Thursday May 14, 2015. (Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun)
Public high school students in Peel, Durham and Sudbury return to class Wednesday — one day after the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) ruled that their teachers were on an illegal strike.
In a written judgment released Tuesday, board chair Bernard Fishbein effectively ordered the teachers back on the job Wednesday for a minimum two-week period.
“I direct that these strikes cease at least for two weeks from the date of this decision,” he said. “After this two-week moratorium has elapsed, the local strike may continue ... subject to proceedings or outcomes elsewhere which have been initiated during the course of these proceedings.”
All three school boards advised parents that classes would resume Wednesday.
The Ontario government was already moving back-to-work legislation through the legislature to bring an end to the strikes that put 74,000 students out of class.
The bill is expected to be in place by the time the OLRB strike moratorium is up.
Education Minister Liz Sandals said government lawyers were still reviewing the OLRB decision late Tuesday but her government intends to continue pursuing back-to-work legislation.
“It really doesn’t change the focus — the focus at this point is we have to get the students back in school,” Sandals said. “And the only way that we can be sure that we’ll get the students back in school, and then have them stay in school for the rest of the school year, is by passing the back-to-work legislation.”
The Education Relations Commission had officially advised Sandals that the academic year for public high school students in Durham, Peel and Sudbury was in jeopardy until they return promptly to class.
Durham teachers have been on the picket line since April 20, and teachers at the other two boards followed closely on their heels.
The three school boards took the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) to the OLRB, arguing that the local strikes were being fought over issues that legally belonged at a provincial bargaining table.
Under legislation introduced by the Kathleen Wynne government last year, teacher unions bargain with the provincial government at a central table over large monetary issues such as class sizes and at another table with school boards to resolve local issues.
The law demands local strikes be fought on local issues, and provincial strikes be fought on provincial issues.
Fishbein concluded that OSSTF’s local strikes were at least in part fought over provincial issues such as class sizes.
Peel District School Board chair Janet McDougald had earlier accused OSSTF of using the board’s students to send a message to the central table and the provincial government.
An immediate response from the OSSTF was not available but president Paul Elliott earlier told reporters that all three strikes were fought on local issues.