While austerity and precarious work are increasingly common in the province, we are presently in a moment of opportunity.
Bill 115 Victory
Bill 115 Victory
In April, ETFO and other education unions won a major victory at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. The court found that the Ontario government’s Bill 115, imposed in the fall of 2012, was a violation of the collective bargaining rights of education unions.
In September 2012, the Government of Ontario passed Bill 115 – the Putting Students First Act. Bill 115 required that any collective agreement negotiated between a school board and a teachers’ bargaining unit must be consistent with a memorandum of understanding the government had negotiated with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA). If it was not, a collective agreement consistent with the OECTA memorandum of understanding would be imposed by the government.
ETFO and other education unions challenged Bill 115 under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, arguing that it substantially interfered with collective bargaining between school boards and bargaining agents in the education sector.
Section 2(d) of the Charter, which guarantees freedom of association, protects a “meaningful process of collective bargaining.” As the Supreme Court of Canada has held, this includes the right of employees to join together to pursue workplace goals, make collective representations to the employer, and to have those representations considered in good faith, including having a means of recourse should the employer not bargain in good faith.
On April 20, 2016, the Superior Court of Justice held that Bill 115 substantially interfered with collective bargaining contrary to s. 2(d) of the Charter. In his decision, Justice Lederer ruled that the passage of the Putting Students First Act infringed on union members’ rights to meaningful collective bargaining under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He also determined that the process the government engaged in was “fundamentally flawed.”
“This is a total vindication of our pursuit of democratic rights on behalf of our members,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond. “ETFO and its legal counsel acted as the lead in launching the Charter challenge in the fall of 2012 because, by imposing the terms and conditions of our members’ contract, the Ontario government abrogated teachers’ collective bargaining rights, including their right to strike.”
Bill 115 blatantly interfered with lawful collective bargaining activities in the education sector for three years. It put the actions of the government beyond the review of the Ontario Labour Relations Board, outside the reach of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and even above the courts.
Justice Lederer did not comment on a remedy for the parties, who are now required to meet to determine a remedy. If they are unable to reach agreement on a remedy, the matter will be referred back to Justice Lederer for a decision.
Spring Representative Council
ETFO had an eventful spring representative council meeting. More than 100 local leaders along with representatives from ETFO’s Leaders for Tomorrow attended. President Hammond spoke to ETFO’s recent Bill 115 victory as well as the importance of continuing to work for a better Ontario for all. On the second day of the meeting, delegates heard about the Charter Challenge from our legal team, Goldblatt Partners.
ETFO local presidents participated in an early morning MPP breakfast at Queens Park. This was an opportunity for the local leaders to speak with their provincial representatives about issues in their schools and communities.
Krista Wiley from Fix Our Schools, a grassroots, non-partisan, parent-led organization, spoke to the council. She discussed the disrepair in Ontario elementary and secondary schools, and her hope that ETFO and other unions get behind the Fix Our Schools Campaign. ETFO also welcomed Bethany McLachlin, a representative from Art for AIDS International, an organization dedicated to raising funds and awareness for women and children affected by HIV and AIDS.
Teach Pride 2016
Pride events across Ontario are fast approaching and are an opportunity for all people to challenge homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, and to promote social justice and equity in the community and in classrooms. This year’s theme – Teach Pride! – is a call to action for educators and students to make school communities safe and welcoming for all people. Pride celebrations in many communities are more than just parades. Check out ETFO’s Ontario Pride Events flyer for plans in your area and get involved (etfo.ca) The flyer will be updated as more events are announced.
ETFO has also introduced a new social media Twitter handle, @ETFOPink, for both LGBTQ and allied members to share and promote LGBTQ advocacy initiatives and issues. You can follow @ETFOPink for news, and share your LGBTQ-related news with the hashtag #ETFOPink.
ETFO Summer Academy
Registration for ETFO’s Summer Academy opened at the end of May. Courses this year will focus on Kindergarten, mathematics and technology. A variety of other courses will also be available to meet your professional needs, e.g., the arts, special education and inquiry.
Each course includes many practical, classroom-ready strategies and time to collaborate and network with colleagues.
We hope you join us for three days of motivating, energizing, active learning! See Professional Learning at etfo.ca. Follow us at #ETFOsa16.
From Charity to Justice Conference
In May, fifty ETFO women members attended the first From Charity to Justice conference, which focussed on the connections between the labour movement and social justice movements. Held at provincial office, the conference explored how members can leverage their charitable work to become social justice advocates for change. Keynote speaker Deirdre Pike of the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton noted that while charity provides a direct benefit to the community, it often maintains the status quo and doesn’t really change the structure that keeps people in need. Both Pike and subsequent presenters, including staff and activist members from locals, reviewed the actions that members can take to build relationships and advocate for change at community and political levels.
April 28 National Day of Mourning
ETFO has added its voice to the call for a national ban on asbestos. The Canadian Labour Congress called for the ban to recognize April 28 as the National Day of Mourning, which commemorates workers who lost their lives or became sick or injured due to their work. Asbestos is the number one cause of occupational death in Canada, with more than 2,000 people dying every year from diseases caused by exposure to asbestos, including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.
ETFO is concerned for its members, students and school communities as asbestos- containing materials, such as ceiling tiles and pipe insulation, can be present within view and within reach in aging school buildings. The intense activity in classrooms, hallways and gymnasiums can contribute to asbestos disturbance and put those in the school at risk. The 2014 ETFO MOU Task Force on Health and Safety Report and Recommendations called for the ministries of Labour and Education to develop a provincial asbestos guidance document for school boards to manage and mitigate the risks of airborne asbestos exposure in schools.
Fight for $15 and Fairness
Ontario’s Ministry of Labour is currently reviewing all the laws that govern workplaces. This means there is a real opportunity to improve working conditions across the province. Decent wages and hours, paid sick days and stronger enforcement of our rights are all within our reach. On April 15 ETFO leaders and members joined thousands of others at rallies across the province to call for a $15 minimum wage and better working conditions.
Thousands of workers in Ontario are paid only the minimum wage. This is particularly true for women and young workers. They do not have benefits, paid sick leave or, in many cases, regular hours.
This is the time to press the government to make some of the changes needed to provide Ontario workers with decent wages and working hours. Take the time to visit 15andfairness.org. Sign the petition to the government and learn more about precarious work. Check out the Ontario Federation of Labour campaign site, makeitfair.ca, for a list of events in your community.
OSLA School Symposium
On April 15, President Sam Hammond addressed the School Services Symposium of the Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists (OSLA). OSLA represents, promotes and supports its members in their work on behalf of all Ontarians, especially those with communication disorders, swallowing difficulties or hearing health care needs.
President Hammond said, “It is unacceptable that, in a society as wealthy as Ontario, families don’t have easy access to vital services like speech language pathology and audiology. It’s unacceptable that we’re in a situation where hospitals and school boards are being forced by lessthan-inflation increases to program budgets – or, in some cases, cuts – to offload these services to the community level where they may no longer be affordable or accessible. Children with special needs shouldn’t be shouldering the burden of this government’s austerity agenda.
“ETFO’s understanding of the importance of early identification and intervention is why we’ve been long-term advocates for full-day Kindergarten and universally accessible child care. It is also why we have advocated for more funding through the education grants for speech language pathology and other professional supports.”
Interprofessional collaboration is critical to the success of our students. For more information about OSLA, visit osla.on.ca.
Progress Summit 2016: Shaping the Future
From March 31 to April 2, activists from around the country met in Ottawa at the Broadbent Institute’s Progress Summit. They heard keynote speakers including Gloria Steinem and Cindy Blackstock. ETFO was represented by President Sam Hammond, First Vice-President Susan Swackhammer, Vice-Presidents Karen Campbell and Nancy Lawler, and General Secretary Victoria Réaume. ETFO was a founding supporter of the Broadbent Institute. The summit is just one way the Broadbent Institute connects progressive activists and builds strength in communities. You can watch any one of the keynote speakers by going to broadbentinstitute.ca/summit2016.
Internet for All Campaign
ETFO has endorsed the ACORN Internet for All Campaign. ACORN, an independent national organization of low and moderate income families, is looking for public support to achieve affordable internet access for low-income Canadians. Canada has some of the highest internet costs in the world. At the same time, access to the internet has become ever more important – looking up a phone number, applying for a job, connecting with an employer, researching a school project, accessing government services. Access to the internet should be available to everyone at a cost they can afford. If you agree, join ETFO and endorse the campaign at internetforall.ca.
The minority government at Queen’s Park means Ontario could face an election this school year. ETFO members may still harbour strong feelings about the Liberal government’s attack on collective bargaining rights and the failure of anyone in the legislature to vigorously defend them, but we should not overlook the bigger threat to the public sector and to unions: the agenda of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.