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Teachers unions vow to take Ontario to court over wage freeze legislation

Sam Hammond is president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's largest teachers unions have committed to take the province to court if legislation that would avoid pay raises and prevent a strike is passed.

The Liberals have called back the legislature early in order to introduce the controversial bill this Monday. It would impose a wage freeze and cuts to sick days on teachers and block them from striking, or their employers - the school boards - from locking them out.

"Where is the democracy in this process?" said Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) president Ken Coran. "I don't care if this court case takes 10 years, we're going to fight for what's right."

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He said his members won't be taking any job action this September and accused the government of manufacturing a crisis in order to win support in upcoming by-elections in Vaughan and Kitchener-Waterloo.

Union leaders have been clear that they were prepared to accept a 0 per cent wage increase for members, with the exception of younger teachers who accumulate experience-based pay bumps in their first 10 years on the job.

The legislation would also cut teachers' sick days in half, and prevent some from benefiting from a pay-out on banked sick days upon retirement.

The legislation imposes terms that the province negotiated with the English Catholic teachers' union and which have been accepted by just three of the province's 72 school boards. The terms are as unpopular with the school boards as they are with unions because they limit their control over teacher hiring and student assessment.

The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the unions in a court challenge of similar legislation in British Columbia. The Ontario government is banking on some differences in the situation here, including what it sees as a much longer and more robust negotiation process.

The New Democrats have said they won't support the legislation because of the expensive and protracted legal battle which is likely to result. The Progressive Conservatives changed their tune Wednesday and suggested they may offer their support.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario will be holding a day of protest Tuesday to show their opposition to the bill. Their president, Sam Hammond, has said a strike is "the furthest thing from my mind," but his members will hold a strike vote in September and October.

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About the Author
Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

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