NOTE: This entry has received dozens of comments from teachers and others, for which I am thankful. It is always good to hear from the people who are affected by the policies and laws we discuss in class. I have posted most of the comments, though comments that were insulting or added nothing of value to the discussion were deleted. I’m not the Toronto Sun. I’m moderating an educational website intended to engage and inform students. I’ve now cut off comments, because the post is taking up too much space. Thanks for your interest, and watch for future commentaries on this blog as legal issues relating to teachers’ collective bargaining as they emerge. Best, David
I just returned from a visit to Northwestern University Law School in Chicago, where I several times found myself engulfed by thousands
of striking teachers. Chicago teachers have been on strike for a week now, and yesterday members voted to continue the strike for a bit longer after rejecting a proposed settlement. Here in Ontario, our Liberal government simply passed a law saying teachers can’t strike and fixing the collective agreement on terms the government wants. Not often that we can say America has greater respect for workers’ collective bargaining rights, but here is one example.
Having had the right to strike taken from them, many teachers are now exercising the only tool left (within the bounds of Canadian law) to express their frustration with their employer: withdraw from performing volunteer work. This includes after school coaching and mentoring.
This Toronto Star piece discusses how parents are having a hard time explaining to their children why the teachers aren’t doing this work. Wasn’t hard for me to explain it to my 9 year old: Doing after school activities is not part of the teachers’ jobs, and they don’t get paid for it. In Canada, luckily, no one can be forced to work for free. Your teachers volunteer to stay after work for free, because they care for you guys. But right now they are mad at their employer, who they think is being mean and unfair to them. The only way they can show their employer that they are mad is to stop volunteering to spend their free time at work. They are not mad at the kids. But sometimes in life you have to take a stand when you think someone is being mean to you.
Is it unlawful for the teachers to stop coaching football and dance class? [Teachers should speak to their union before doing or not doing anything (This is NOT legal advice. I am having a discussion with students about the law)]. Look at the definition of a strike in the Education Act:
(b) “strike” includes any action or activity by teachers in combination or in concert or in accordance with a common understanding that is designed or may reasonably be expected to have the effect of curtailing, restricting, limiting or interfering with,
(i) the normal activities of a board or its employees, (ii) the operation or functioning of one or more of a board’s schools or of one or more of the programs in one or more schools of a board, or (iii) the performance of the duties of teachers set out in the Act or the regulations under it, including any withdrawal of services or work to rule by teachers acting in combination or in concert or in accordance with a common understanding.
Does this language make a refusal to coach a soccer team by teachers a strike?
If it does, then by virtue of Bill 115, a refusal to coach would be an unlawful strike right now. But ‘work’ can’t include something that you are not required to do, right? Imagine your employer asks you to volunteer at a charity event for 2 hours per day, after work. Is that considered part of your job? Should it be? Does ‘normal activities of a board’s school or employees’ include volunteer work that a teacher would ‘normally’ offer to do for free? If it does, then does that really mean that teachers can be ordered by the state to perform volunteer work?
In the past, there have been disputes about what teachers are and are not required to do under their contracts. For example, refusing to attend a staff meeting after school is probably refusing to ‘work’, because staff meetings are probably an expected requirement of teaching. But refusing to do pure volunteer work has not been found to be engaging in a strike.
There have also been attempts to legislate a broader definition a ‘strike’ for teachers in order to include extra-curricular activities like coaching. For example, the Ontario Conservative government (surprise!), passed a law back in 2000 (Bill 80, if I recall correctly) to create a category of work called ‘co-instructional activities’, which included activities that ‘enrich pupil’s school-related activities’, including activities relating to ‘sports, arts, and cultural activities’. Under that law, a refusal to perform volunteer after school coaching and mentoring work could have been treated as an unlawful strike. That very controversial part of the law was never proclaimed into effect.
What do you think? Should teachers be required by law to perform volunteer after school activities? Should a refusal to volunteer be considered an unlawful strike?
If you were the state, would you attempt to pass a law banning teachers from refusing to volunteer?
If you think a law like that is a good idea, then should it apply beyond teachers? Should all employees be required to perform volunteer work, or just teachers?