Education Minister Laurel Broten has imposed contracts with school boards across the province, but teachers aren’t happy about it.
The bitter taste in the mouths of many elementary and high schools educators, with the Renfrew County District School Board, could mean inter-school and other extra-curricular activities are cancelled for the duration of their new contracts. The new contracts, which are retroactive to Sept. 1, 2012, expire on Aug. 31, 2014.
More may be known after local presidents of the Ontario Secondary Teachers Federation and the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario meet in Toronto Jan. 9.
On Jan. 3, Broten announced that 65 locally negotiated and ratified agreements submitted by Ontario school boards prior to the Dec. 31, 2012 deadline, were ratified.
Through an Order in Council, on the minister’s advice, the government “implemented” remaining contracts for all boards and unions without ratified and approved collective agreements by the deadline.
There were an estimated 400 of those contracts. The government’s Jan. 3 news release refers to how students were put first by introducing ‘fair and balanced collective agreements’.
Jeff Barber, president of District 28 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), says that’s laughable.
There’s no way they can be called collective agreements because the contracts were imposed, he says. “They pulled out the gun and pulled the trigger,” says Barber referring to how the Ontario Liberals used the Putting Students First Bill 115, which was passed in September, to help impose the contracts.
“Ten years of goodwill by this Liberal government have been squandered by the Liberal education minister in 10 months,” said Allison Ryan, local president for the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario.
Not since 1917 have Ontario teachers had contracts forced on them, she adds.
“What she’s done (as education minister) is impose a contract. I wouldn’t call it a collective agreement because we didn’t have the opportunity (to collectively bargain) … I don’t know how they’re going to repair this. They said they’re repealing the bill, but they’re repealing it after imposing the agreements.”
The government says Bill 115, also known as the Putting Students First Act, “was introduced and passed by a majority of the House to ensure that we could maintain the progress we’ve made in our schools and minimize labour disruption during the extended negotiation period. The Putting Students First Act has now accomplished this goal.”
Following a ratification period for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) for 110 agreements (related to custodial and secretarial staff), the minister says the act will be repealed by the end of January 2013.
The government says the new contracts will save the province $250 million in 2012-13 and $540 million in 2013-14. There’s an additional one-time savings of $1.1 billion by eliminating teachers’ banked sick days that would have resulted in payouts to teachers upon retirement.
The imposed contracts, says local ETFO president Ryan, means a salary freeze for teachers amounts to a pay cut of about 1.5 per cent unless they move up the salary grid. The loss of income is attributed to the fact that teachers in 2013-14 will be required to take take three professional development days without pay.
Dennis Jenkins is a superintendent with the Renfrew County District School Board, which was among the many boards who didn’t have negotiated agreements in place by Dec. 31, 2012.
Jenkins said the board’s teachers “are going to be disappointed, but having “imposed contracts at least means we have contracts, and the teachers are not in a legal strike position anymore.”
At the same time, teachers could take political action, as they did in 1997 in Renfrew County, when they walked the picket lines without receiving pay. During a legal strike, teachers receive a per-diem from their unions.
The Renfrew County Catholic District School Board was among the 65 boards whose negotiated agreements were ratified by the Ontario government Jan. 3, 2013.
Political action by local teachers could include the continued withdrawal of extra-curricular services in the public board’s elementary and secondary schools.
“Members are going to have to think long and hard before they get involved in extra-curricular activities,” said Barber.
“I would be surprised if extra-curriculars would continue. And that could be for the next one and a half years, or until we’re able to negotiate freely and collectively.”
Pulling extra-curricular services is “entirely possible,” says Ryan.
“Gauging by their reaction (to Broten’s announcement), they’re upset and they know that extra-curriculars are volunteer and they take time away from their own families.”
ETFO represents more than 350 teachers, occasional teachers, educational assistants or school support counsellors. OSSTF locally represents about 700 employees, who are permanent or supply teachers in high school, office managers in high school, or early childhood educators in the elementary schools.