By Dianne Cornish, REVIEW STAFF
About 80 teachers and support staff from Hamilton-Wentworth staged an after-hours protest against the controversial Bill 115 outside MPP Ted McMeekin’s office Wednesday afternoon. The protest involved members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3396 representing educational support staff with the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board.
The presidents of all three Hamilton-Wentworth locals, Chantal Mancini of OSSTF, Lisa Hammond of the ETFO and Linda Durkin of CUPE were amongst the protestors.
Hammond said protests against the loss of collective bargaining rights through Bill 115 will continue with a large rally being planned for the Liberal leadership convention being held Jan. 26 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.
“There’s not much left for us to do,” said Mancini of the after-hours political protest given that the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled last week that one-day protests conducted during school hours will be deemed as illegal strikes.
Both teachers’ union presidents said that court action launched by the teachers last fall against the bill appears to be the way that their conflict with the provincial government will be resolved.
There was a police presence in Waterdown during the afternoon protest, with a couple of Hamilton police officers standing outside the MPPs office at the start of the protest. Teachers held their protest on Dundas Street East, where traffic was brisk and many passing motorists honked their horns in support of the teachers.
Contacted at his Waterdown constituency office on Thursday morning, McMeekin said he wasn't in his office during the teachers' protest because, as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, he was at ministry meetings in Toronto.
"They only give you half a day's notice," he said of those organizing the teachers' protest. But he added that he has invited Mancini, who tweeted him before the protest asking if he would be at his office, to contact his staff and set up an appointment to speak with him. She tweeted back that she would follow up on his invitation, McMeekin said.
"I think it's wonderful that they are protesting on their own time and not inconveniencing anyone," he said of the demonstration. "If they think that is the most effective way of getting their message across, they are welcome to do that."
Legal action initiated by the teachers is the right way to settle their dispute with the government, he added. "I would join (them) in asking that the court action be expedited."