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Teachers were in illegal strike: OLRB

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The Ontario Labour Relations Board has issued an interim decision in favour of the local public school board, ruling the union representing elementary teachers participated in an illegal strike.

The OLRB released the decision Thursday, two-and-a-half months after the Upper Canada District School Board filed a complaint against the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO).

The board posited the union was in an illegal strike position by directing its members not to participate in extra-curricular activities; the union responded by saying its members were free to choose whether to volunteer for those activities.

Marg Merpaw, the president of the local ETFO chapter, said the ruling did have a silver lining for the union.

“What I found heartening was the fact that the ruling reinforces that individual members have the right to make personal decisions of whether or not to participate in voluntary extra-curricular activities,” she said.

On March 26, the union's provincial executive lifted its stance that members should not participate in extra-curricular activities, after positive talks with the government.

Following that, the union and the school board, along with the Trillium Lakelands District School Board, appeared before the OLRB again.

The school boards argued a decision should be issued despite the union's recent activity and the union argued no decision was necessary.

Bernard Fishbein, chairman of the OLRB, wrote this is an interim decision, as ETFO has initiated a Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge to the definition of strike under the Education Act.

“In view of the publicity these applications have received... I have determined that I should issue an interim notice indicating what has been determined in the application so far,” Fishbein wrote in his decision.

“Whether any or how much of this survives in any final order or notice after hearing the Charter arguments remains to be seen.”

Greg Pietersma, chairman of the Upper Canada District School Board, said the board was glad to have the decision.

“While that won't make much difference for now, it certainly clarifies what is appropriate for unions to counsel their members to do in the future,” Pietersma said.

Fishbein noted in his ruling there was still a labour relations purpose to issuing the decision, despite the fact extra-curricular activities have been reinstated by the union.

Both Merpaw and Pietersma said there is a lot of relationship building still to be done between the union and the board.

“Absolutely. There was whether we went to the OLRB or not,” Pietersma said.

“It's been a very traumatic time for all involved.”

Merpaw said ETFO will continue to work with the provincial government to reach a new deal, which will be voted on by members across the province.

She said teaching is the only profession where employees are expected to perform volunteer work beyond regular duties.

“They basically castigated teachers for making personal decisions,” she said.

“You can't legislate good will... I've been talking to teachers and a lot of them aren't returning to do the extra-curricular activities.”

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