Kathleen Wynne says action to end teacher strikes possible over weekend

By: Robert Benzie Queen’s Park Bureau Chief, Louise Brown GTA, Published on Fri May 22 2015

Premier Kathleen Wynne has said she is prepared to move fast — even over the weekend — to end strikes in three school boards if she gets advice that the student year is in jeopardy.

Wynne is awaiting a report by an arm’s-length expert panel as to whether high school teacher strikes in Durham, Peel and the Sudbury district are threatening the school year for nearly 70,000 students.

The chair of the Education Relations Commission (ERC) told the Star Thursday he expected a decision “in the near future” but Chris Albertyn did not say precisely when that would be.

“I don’t know whether there will be a ruling out on the weekend (but) we would act as quickly as we can,” Wynne told reporters during a visit Friday to Baycrest Health Services — suggesting an emergency sitting of the Legislature could be held Saturday or Sunday to pass back-to-work legislation.

“The fact is, if you’ll remember, the House was brought back when there was TTC labour unrest,” she said, referring to a rare weekend sitting in April 2008 that forced 9,000 striking members of the Amalgamated Transit Union back on the job.

“We’ll act as quickly as we can once we have the advice.”

Members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) walked off the job April 20 in Durham — halfway through the second semester — and April 27 in Sudbury and May 4 in Peel. With only weeks left before exams and the end of the year, panic is setting in among students and families that the year could be lost.

As concerns grow over the academic year, Education Minister Liz Sandals tapped the ERC May 15 to decide whether the school year is in jeopardy, and the four-member panel has been gathering information, Albertyn said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Friday her party typically opposes back-to-work legislation, and “I think that the best way to get through these kinds of situations is to actually bargain seriously at the bargaining table. I don’t think the government has been doing that. Or else we would not be in the situation we are in…

“Back-to-work legislation never solves the problem in a positive way,” she said. “The problems will still be outstanding. The only difference is that the young people will be back at school. We are going to look at what the government brings forward, but I cannot speculate.”

Horwath noted the government has a majority so it can do what it wishes.

Meanwhile, the three school boards have complained to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) that the local strikes violate the new two-tiered bargaining process because they are not really about local issues, but rather over issues such as class size that are bargained at the province-wide “central” table. The boards say the School Boards’ Collective Bargaining Act is intended to permit local strikes over only local issues, and a central (province-wide) strike over only central issues.

However the union maintains the Act draws no such line and also that the three local strikes are over the breakdown of local talks in those boards.

OLRB Chair Bernard Fishbein heard legal arguments on both sides for more than four days and has said he hopes to rule on the legality of the strikes by the middle of next week.

Meanwhile, provincial talks between the OSSTF and the Ontario Public School Boards’ Bargaining Association were to resume this weekend.

With files from Kristin Rushowy