When Mary Bell became the president of the Wisconsin teachers’ union in 2007, she didn’t envisage she’d be leading a grassroots battle agai
Gearing up for Bargaining
ETFO has done a great deal in the past couple of years to fight for our collective bargaining rights and the democratic rights of all Ontarians. One of our most significant victories was winning our Charter challenge of the government’s Bill 115, which imposed contracts on ETFO members and removed our right to strike. This win demonstrates the impact of standing in solidarity with one another.
In April, Ontario Supreme Court Justice Lederer found that, through Bill 115, the government had “breached” the Charter right of ETFO and other education unions to freedom of association. He refrained from dictating a remedy for this violation and urged the parties to negotiate the terms of a resolution. If that process fails, the government and unions can return to court for the judge to determine a remedy. It is ETFO’s view that a negotiated remedy is the best route. The impact of Bill 115 on ETFO members was complicated and affected members differently. To assist in developing our position on the remedy issue, local presidents and chief negotiators attended a special meeting on September 20, 2016. ETFO’s legal counsel made a presentation on the parameters of a potential remedy and local leaders discussed actions that could serve as an appropriate remedy. The proposals, which were wide-ranging, are being reviewed by the Executive and members will be receiving updates on next steps.
Looking Ahead to Next Round Bargaining
ETFO collective agreements don’t expire until August 2017, but the process for the next round of bargaining is well underway. Last year, the federation conducted an extensive debrief with executive members, staff, local leaders and members about our first experience with the new provincial bargaining legislation.
In the fall, we began a goal-setting process for bargaining that will be different than the process followed in the past. This initiative will have central and local components, since we are now bargaining under Bill 122. The legislation mandates a system of two-tiered bargaining at the central and local tables for teacher and occasional teacher bargaining units. There is central and local bargaining for DECE, ESP and PSP locals as well. The bill gives the government a number of new powers over bargaining and control over employer bargaining agents, allowing government to participate without being bound to the Ontario Labour Relations Act prohibitions against unfair labour practices. Needless to say, this will be a significant topic of discussion in the months to come.
We are now in the process of seeking input into the bargaining goals for the next round and are seeking broad member involvement. In November, members are participating in a provincial online survey and locals will be seeking member input for local negotiations. The goals identified through the survey will be reviewed by ETFO’s Collective Bargaining Standing Committee, which is tasked with coming up with a list of goals for the Executive’s consideration. Throughout the process, the objective is to identify bargaining goals that truly address the working conditions in our classrooms.
As you know, there have been a number of changes at the provincial office this fall. I am very happy to be working with ETFO in my new capacity as General Secretary. I would also like to welcome our new Deputy General Secretary Colleen Lee. Colleen began her career as a teacher with the Bruce County District School Board and quickly became involved in her union as a local president. She joined the provincial office in 1997 where she has worked in Equity and Women’s Services, Communications/Public Relations, Professional Development and, most recently, as Coordinator of Collective Bargaining. Colleen, Jerry and I are looking forward to working with the ETFO Provincial Executive, local leaders, staff and members to build a stronger federation and better schools.
Participation in political rallies gives ETFO members an important opportunity to support their union’s bargaining position; it gives them a public voice on how contract provisions directly affect classroom working and learning conditions. ETFO members find themselves once again compelled to protest the government and employer stance at the bargaining table.