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Teachers to walk out

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Teachers will walk off the job after negotiations between Education and Training minister Dave Johnson and the Ontario Teachers' Federation collapsed yesterday.

Both parties left the bargaining table feeling a bit slighted after two days of talks on Bill 160 yielded noting but bad feelings.

Andrew Hallikas, local president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said Monday's brief meeting with Johnson weren't very productive and that yesterday's talks were “not fruitful.”

So the OTF is poised to embark on the first province-wide teacher strike Ontario has ever seen—despite the government's claims that such a strike would be illegal.

“We are using our democratic right to protest," Hallikas claimed, noting many were getting tired of the phrase "illegal strike.”

No one's sure what will happen if back-to-work legislation is ordered. Hallikas said the federations won't be making that decision until they come to it but asked, “If it's already an illegal strike, can you make it more unlawful by ignoring legislation?”

“If we go out, I'm expect we're staying out until the attack on education are pointedly muted," he said. "We're not taking this lightly.”

“Locally, the federations are prepared to walk whether they want to call it legal or illegal,” echoed Al Holt, local president of the Ontario Public School Teachers' Federation.

“We're prepared to hit the pavement,” he stressed.

Hallikas wondered if back-to-work legislation would even be used, noting the government may have a hidden agenda.

“The opposition parties are thinking [the government] want us to go out," he said. "Some are saying it's an easy way to recoup money from education.”

Meanwhile, schools under the public and separate boards here will remain open but both are asking parents to leave their children at home because there won't be enough supervision at the schools to watch the children, and no buses will be running.

Public board chair Wilma Sletmoen said they won't get involved in the teachers' strike.

“Our view is this is an issue between teachers and the province,” she said, noting the board will remain neutral unless otherwise forced.

“We'll just have to play it by ear,” Sletmoen added.

Meanwhile, no one knows how long the strike will last. Although Hallikas stressed no teacher wanted to strike, he did say they would walk out and stay out for however long it takes.

“There is no point in coming back if large parts of Bill 160 are unchanged," he said. "If Bill 160 goes through, this would not be the same job I've loved for the past 25 years.”

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