Liberal labour pains
More than 300 teachers and their supporters rally in Sydney to protest Bill 75
The focus in the ongoing dispute between Nova Scotia and its teachers shifted from classroom conditions to labour rights Wednesday.
More than 300 teachers and their supporters gathered in front of the Provincial Building for a little over an hour to protest legislation that would impose a four-year contract on Nova Scotia Teachers Union members.
NSTU Cape Breton District local president Sally Capstick said the Teachers Professional Agreement and Classroom Improvement Act, or Bill 75 — which Premier Stephen McNeil’s Liberals are pushing through legislature in an emergency sitting — is an attack on unions.
“I thought we lived in a democracy,” Capstick said, as people on both sides of Prince Street chanted “Kill Bill 75.”
“I don’t think that’s part of any democracy, of any freedom of any country. I’m a proud Canadian — firstgeneration immigrant. That’s not the kind of country, or the kind of future, that I want to see my kids grow up in.”
Members of various unions were at the rally to show their support for the province’s 9,300 teachers, who have been waging a work-to-rule campaign since Dec. 5.
As Bill 75 makes its way into law, Nova Scotia teachers are preparing to stage a one-day, provincewide strike Friday — the first in the 122-year history of the NSTU.
Carmie Erickson, president of the Cape Breton District Labour Council, said everyone should be concerned by McNeil’s attempt to legislate an end to the 16-month contract dispute, calling it “unacceptable.”
“They’re taking away collective bargaining — things that we have fought for for 100 years they want to squash,” she said. “Anything that we lose, everybody is going to lose. Anything unions win is for the good of everybody. You enjoy your weekends? Thank a union. You enjoy minimum wage and better? Thank a union. Anything we get is passed on to every working person in this country, and anything we lose is going to cost every working person in this country.”
Paul Moore, a member of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, said Bill 75 would strip away the rights of workers.
“It’s the teachers today and it’s going to be the NSGEU and the civil servants in a couple of week’s time,” he said as he held an NSGEU flag.
Brookland Elementary student Lily Bottomley, was chanting “legislate, don’t dictate” while holding a sign that read “Don’t Exterminate My Education!”
As passing motorists honked their horns in encouragement, the nine-yearold said she wanted show her support for her Grade 4 teacher, “Mr. Oliver.”
“I’m here to support teachers,” she said. “I have a teacher and because of Stephen McNeil we couldn’t have basketball this year at school.”
Capstick said while legislating against strike action is not uncommon — “I don’t think there’s a public sector that hasn’t had some kind of strike action legislated against it” — she was particularly bothered that McNeil recalled legislature because teachers rejected a third tentative deal last week.
“To call this an emergency, to waste the money that he’s wasting on the sitting of the legislature, is unbelievable. Kids were still in school, kids were still learning, things were going on. We definitely turned down the contract but that’s certainly no reason to legislate a contract.”
She wasn’t surprised by the strong turnout at Wednesday’s rally, “especially in Cape Breton where we have a strong labour background.”
“We still celebrate Davis Day and we celebrate the fact that these people went out and stood up for something that they believed in — the right as a group to negotiate a contract — and now that’s being taken away,” she said.
Meanwhile, the NTEU will hold a one-day, provincewide strike on Friday to protest legislation that would impose a four-year contract.
Members of the legislature have been speaking all night in an effort to slow down the law that would impose the contract.
Once passed, the Teachers Professional Agreement and Classroom Improvement Act would end a 16-month-long contract dispute.
Premier McNeil has said it’s time to act after the union membership rejected three tentative agreements recommended by the union’s executive.
Union president Liette Doucet says in a news release that teachers will spend Friday protesting what she calls McNeil’s “bully tactics.’’
Tessa Stepaniak, 5, of Gardiner Mines, a student at Tompkins Elementary, shows her support for teachers, including her mom Rhonda Beaton, left, during a rally in front of the Provincial Building on Prince Street in Sydney on Wednesday. More than 300 members of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and their supporters lined both sides of the street to protest legislation that would impose a contract on the province’s 9,300 teachers.
People stand in front of the Provincial Building on Prince Street in Sydney on Wednesday to protest Bill 75, legislation that would an impose a contract on the province’s 9,300 teachers.