Sunday, January 27, 2013

30,000 workers protest Ontario Liberal convention

The Toronto Star:

Ontario’s union leaders should be among the first invited to meet with premier-designate Kathleen Wynne in order to ease the labour tension that has gripped the province — and, in particular, its schools — says the president of the high school teachers’ union.

“I hope (the Liberals) listen and that they request a meeting with all of the union presidents right away — especially in the education sector — to try and work out some of the hard feelings that exist right now, to rebuild relationships,” said Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, in an interview after speaking to the thousands who gathered at Allan Gardens for a mass labour rally held as the governing Liberals chose their new leader.

Before Wynne triumphed at the Liberal convention, Coran said he hoped for a “call within 24 hours after the new leader is selected to set up a meeting. (Teachers) have accepted a wage freeze for the last 12 months, so let’s build on that and solve some of these problems . . . members just want to be treated with respect, and fairly.”

Saturday’s labour protest drew a huge and varied crowd from across the province, though the largest groups among them were elementary and secondary teachers. Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees were also out in full force, including CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn, as was a vocal group of rural Ontario residents that opposes wind turbines.

Protesters marched from Allan Gardens to Maple Leaf Gardens, filling downtown streets as they made their way along Gerrard St. E. to Yonge St. and up to Carlton. Organizers put the crowd at 30,000, while media estimates ranged from 10,000 to 15,000.

Police barricaded nearby downtown streets for the peaceful but noisy group, who cheered and chanted along the way, carrying banners and placards.

Teachers will be looking for some guarantees that the government will never again bypass collective bargaining and impose two-year contracts, as the Liberals did under Bill 115, said both Coran and Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.

The union is also looking to reopen those contracts, or negotiate “memorandums of understanding” to break the impasse, Coran said, adding, “There’s a lot of leeway that could be explored.”

Once teachers see the government addressing their concerns, Coran said, high school teachers will consider resuming extracurricular activities.

Hammond spoke first at a teachers’ rally across from Maple Leaf Gardens before noon, and then later at Allan Gardens. He said government accusations that the teacher unions are “out of touch with reality” are unfair.

“We’ve recognized the fiscal concerns” and will accept a wage freeze, he said in an interview. 

The problem is that teachers “were the only group in this province that they threatened with legislation, and were imposed with legislation.”

At Allan Gardens, protester Carrie Withers said she boarded a bus at 3:15 a.m. with two dozen others from Sault Ste. Marie for the long drive down to Toronto.

“I’m offended to see the gains people fought for eroded away,” said the president of long-term care local 4685 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

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