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Boycott clubs, teams

Both the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) have directed their members to continue a boycott of extracurricular activities. Leaders with both unions held meetings Jan.
Rainbow District School Board director of education Norm Blaseg speaks at a school board meeting Dec. 19, where the board's 2011-2012 financial statements were approved by trustees. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

Both the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) have directed their members to continue a boycott of extracurricular activities.

Leaders with both unions held meetings Jan. 8-9 to work out their next steps now that the government has imposed contracts on their members.

While no formal announcements had been made as of Northern Life's press deadline, ETFO and OSSTF had both indicated on their respective websites that members should continue the boycott.

OSSTF president Ken Coran said in a Jan. 7 web statement that it's always been the union's position that “the performance of extracurricular activities is voluntary.”

He also said, in no uncertian terms, the union made it clear to the province in December that if a contract was imposed, “voluntary or extracurricular activities WILL NOT resume.”

ETFO provincial president Sam Hammond made a similar statement on an ETFO website about contract negotiations,

He said that given what has occurred, “it cannot be business as usual in public elementary schools.”

“Given the actions of the government, members will continue to focus only on the direct instruction of students and ensure student safety,” Hammond said.

“It has always been the position of the federation that participation in extracurricular and other non-instructional activities is voluntary. There are times when it is both appropriate and necessary to withdraw from voluntary activities. We believe that these are such times.

“For the time being, ETFO members should continue to push the pause button on voluntary activities.”

He said the union's leaders are meeting this week to “have a comprehensive discussion about next steps in responding to the government’s action.”

He said the union also plans to approach the new premier and education minister after the upcoming Liberal leadership convention “and demand that they take action to restore immediately freely bargained collective agreements.”

Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) Rainbow president Barb Blasutti said she didn't want to provide a statement at this time.

OSSTF District 3 Rainbow president James Clyke, reached Jan. 9 at the provincial union meeting, confirmed that OSSTF members will continue their boycott of extracurricular activities.

When asked if it will be up to individual members as to whether or not they adhere to the boycott, Clyke said “no it's not,” although he said they won't be fined by the union if they choose not to do so.

“I prefer to go into meetings with my members and have discussions with them about why they should be withdrawing from services and the reasons why we're doing it,” he said. “That's usually all it takes.”

Despite the edicts from their unions, Rainbow District School Board director of education Norm Blaseg is inviting teachers to return to supervising extracurricular activities anyway.

He contends that the boycott is ultimately a personal choice made by individual teachers.

Voluntary or extracurricular activities WILL NOT resume.

Ken Coran,
OSSTF president

“For some, they will get back to the coaching, and some, they will not. But for those who do come back, we embrace them, and we do really appreciate what they're doing.”

Clyke, however, said that's wishful thinking. Premier Dalton McGuinty and Education Minister Laurel Broten, who have also said they hope extracurricular activities will continue, also seem to be under the same illusions, he said.

“I don't understand how they would understand that would happen given what they've done so far,” he said.

Blaseg said the extracurricular boycott, which began in December, hasn't actually had a huge impact on the number of sports activities the board has been able to provide.

“We're offering over 90 per cent of the activities we offered last year,” he said.

In the fall of 2011, the Rainbow board had 54 teams at the secondary level, while in the fall of 2012, it had 50. Last winter, the board had 76 teams, while this year it will have 68.

This reduction isn't all due to the teachers' boycott, either, he said. In some cases, it might just be due to there not being enough kids to field a team for a certain activity, Blaseg said.

And while the board was able to provide detailed statistics for its sports teams, the same could not be said for other extracurricular activities. Spokesperson Nicole Charette said no information had been gathered regarding how other activities, such as music and drama clubs, are being affected.

When asked about the implications of the possibility of a sustained boycott of extracurricular activities, perhaps even for the entire length of the two-year contract, he said they'd have to rely more on community volunteers.

“We've always had a tremendous community volunteer list,” Blaseg said. “If need be, it may cause us to access that list more often.”

He said he hasn't received any phone calls or emails from parents of Grade 8 students considering sending their children to other school boards because of the possibility of ongoing labour strife, and neither have principals to whom he's spoken.

In terms of other actions teachers took last month, such as refusing certain forms of supervision, he said that's all ended now that they're under a contract once again.

As for what he thinks about Broten's actions, he said he doesn't think anyone affected by the situation is happy — the government, teachers, school boards or parents.

“Boards are not thrilled by this whole series of events,” Blaseg said.

“This has not been very productive. At the end of the day, we would have been much happier if we'd been able to sit down with our federations and dealt one on one and reached agreements, and not had this imposed. I think we'd be in a better place today.”

The government seems to have put itself in a situation where it set a hard deadline — Dec. 31 — for agreements to be negotiated at a local level, and it couldn't back down, Blaseg said.

“They decided they had no choice but to pull the pin,” he said.

Negotiations were very difficult at the local level because the government's interaction with unions had “poisoned” the atmosphere, Blaseg said. Now the board is in the situation of trying to mend fences with the unions, he said.

“How do you get beyond that?” Blaseg asks. “That's the real challenge.”

Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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