York Region Elementary teachers take strike action, deal for high schools

TORONTO – Almost 5,000 elementary teachers in one of Ontario’s largest school boards were expected to take strike action Monday, while some high school teachers have pulled back.

Teachers in York Region, which includes 120,000 students in nine municipalities north of Toronto, are starting the first stage of an “escalating withdrawal” of administrative services, said David Clegg, president of the York Region union.

Teachers won’t be arriving until 30 minutes before class starts Monday and Tuesday and will leave no later than 30 minutes after students are dismissed for the day, he said.

But high school teachers in York Region and four other school boards have pulled back from strike action after reaching tentative agreements with their employers.

The deals were reached in the Upper Grand, Hamilton-Wentworth, Thames Valley and Niagara District school boards, but they must still be approved by the government.

Many public high school teachers – including those in the Toronto District School Board, Ontario’s largest – started strike action Nov. 12 after the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation failed to reach a deal with the governing Liberals.

Education Minister Laurel Broten says she’s pleased that the deals were reached.

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“I look forward to receiving the agreements in the days ahead to confirm that they meet the substantively identical test laid out in the Putting Students First Act,” she said in a statement Monday, referring to the anti-strike legislation that’s sparked anger among teachers.

Four unions are taking the government to court, arguing the law is unconstitutional and violates collective bargaining rights.

The legislation gives the government the power to stop strikes and lockouts, and impose its own agreement if it doesn’t like what the unions and school boards negotiate together.

The government says any tentative deal must be similar to the one it struck with English Catholic teachers, which froze the wages of most teachers and cut benefits, such as the banking of sick days that can be cashed out at retirement.

While it’s encouraging that deals have been reached, they may not signal the end of the labour strife in schools, said NDP education critic Peter Tabuns.

“I think (the deals) would have happened sooner if the provincial Liberals hadn’t jumped in with Bill 115 and poisoned the well early on,” he said.

The governing Liberals aren’t doing enough to stop the strike action among elementary and high-school teachers, said Progressive Conservative critic Lisa MacLeod.

They promised parents that the school year would be free from labour strife if the bill passed, but aren’t using their new powers to stop the strike action, she said.