TORONTO — The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario proved a tough crowd for Premier Kathleen Wynne Wednesday just as the government has begun sitting down with the union to negotiate its next collective agreement.
Wynne, who was invited to address ETFO's annual meeting, received applause when she acknowledged that not all teachers are happy with the provincial government.
The proof was close by.
ETFO members seated in the front row of the audience put up signs that read: "250 Sick Days Stolen" and "You took away my rights."
One teacher told Wynne the government took $10,000 out of his pocket when it ended a sick day plan that allowed unused time to be banked and cashed out at retirement — a benefit that was in his contract when he signed on for the job.
Wynne told the ETFO members that the Liberals won a majority, not a lottery, and continue to face tough fiscal challenges.
The premier said she has no extra money for teacher raises, but promised to bargain in a respectful manner.
"We've set out to fix the process and repair the relationship," she said.
One ETFO member said Ontario teachers remain mistrustful and angry at "draconian" Bill 115, legislation introduced under former premier Dalton McGuinty that imposed contracts and stripped benefits, including the sick day plan.
Wynne rewrote those contracts after gaining the Liberal leadership, and ETFO was one of the most active unions in the province in the election campaign against provincial Tories.
The union's annual meeting proved that some of those hard feelings remain.
One ETFO member demanded and received an apology from a union executive who had praised Wynne for her courage in facing down a "tough" audience.
"I need to be a tough crowd," the member said to cheers from fellow teachers. "Who else is standing up for our children, and who else but us here at this meeting represent the 76,000 teachers of this province?"
ETFO president Sam Hammond provided a warm introduction for Wynne, but told reporters later that it will take some time for teachers to forgive and forget Bill 115.
"Rebuilding trust takes a long time," Hammond said. "This (negotiation) process will be a part of that process and we're going to move forward. Last thing I want is to not be able to move forward and find solutions.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has already addressed ETFO, while the Ontario Tories say they were not invited to speak.
Teacher contracts in the province are up as of the end of the month.
Education Minister Liz Sandals said she remains "quite optimistic" that bargaining will go well despite the province’s financial limits.
Teacher compensation includes salary, benefits and, in some cases, working conditions, she said.
"And those are all things that are always on the table when collective bargaining happens," she said. "There are no increases in the compensation line (of the budget)."
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