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Union files complaint against Toronto day school

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Sebastian Gorka (Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Federation of Teachers in Hebrew Schools Toronto has filed a grievance against a Toronto Jewish day school, after the organization’s president caused controversy by taking her students to see a contentious right-wing speaker.

Aviva Polonsky announced in a statement on May 4 that the teachers union filed a grievance against TanenbaumCHAT, the school at which she teaches. It then filed an unfair labour practice complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB), based on how the school handled the grievance.

Polonsky said the teachers union filed the grievance and complaint because of “how the school responded to the Sebastian Gorka matter,” referring to the controversy that erupted after she posted pictures on her social media feed of her students posing with Gorka, a former deputy assistant to U.S. President Donald Trump who has supported some Hungarian political movements with nationalist, racist and anti-Semitic elements.

Polonsky wrote in her statement that TanenbaumCHAT’s response “resulted in damage to me as a teacher and a person, and punishment without cause.” Because the grievance could not be solved between the two parties, the matter will be heading to arbitration.

As for the complaint lodged with the OLRB, Polonsky “alleges that the school violated the Labour Relations Act in how it responded to the Sebastian Gorka matter, and that the school sought to intimidate and undermine the union and teachers’ rights under the act, following the filing of the grievance.”

At the advice of the union’s lawyers, Polonsky declined to comment further on her statement, including refusing to answer The CJN’s questions about how the school’s response led to her being punished without cause and how the school sought to intimidate and undermine the union and teachers’ rights. TanenbaumCHAT also declined to comment.

READ: TEACHER AT CENTRE OF SEBASTIAN GORKA CONTROVERSY SAID SCHOOL WAS AWARE OF MEETING

According to the collective bargaining agreement between TanenbaumCHAT and the union, teachers have a right to file a grievance. If the two sides cannot come to an agreement, then the party that filed the grievance can request arbitration.

As Polonsky said in her statement, she and the school were not able to settle the grievance after the meeting, and the case will be proceeding to arbitration.

In her statement, Polonsky said she submitted an unfair labour practice complaint to the OLRB because of the school’s response to her grievance. The complaint alleges that the school violated the sections of Ontario’s Labour Relations Act that deal with unfair labour practices.

A spokesperson from the OLRB declined to comment on what kind of power the board has in these cases, saying it would be inappropriate to comment in connection with any matter that is before the board. Yet according to Sec. 96 of the Labour Relations Act, the board can potentially order a party to cease doing the act or acts complained of, rectify the act or acts complained of or reinstate or otherwise compensate the person concerned.

“As always, we remain hopeful that we can work with the school to achieve a resolution of these matters without resort to litigation and that we can find a way to move forward and work together to improve the school,” Polonsky’s statement concluded. “But we cannot move forward without adequately addressing what’s happened in the past.”