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.
Job Action for Teachers and OTs (From the President)
As I write this column, central bargaining for teachers and occasional teachers has ceased and ETFO members have begun “Phase 1” of a province-wide, work-to-rule strike action that started on May 11. It is uncertain where we’ll be by the time you read this, so I can only reflect on what brought us to this juncture and offer some thoughts on moving forward. As you all know by now, in late February, the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) and the Liberal government demanded numerous unacceptable concessions at the teacher/OT table, including strips to sick leave provisions, increased supervision time, the ability for principals to direct preparation time, control over diagnostic testing, the removal of staffing and class size provisions from local agreements, the elimination of Regulation 274 and several monetary concessions. After giving OPSBA and the government a “time-out” to reconsider these demands, ETFO applied for conciliation on March 31. It was clear by April 17, when we met with the conciliator, that OPSBA and the government were unwilling to drop the concessions and the ETFO bargaining team requested a “no board” report. This report, issued by the Minister of Labour, and received on April 24, put ETFO in a legal strike position for the teacher/OT table as of May 10. ETFO staff met with stewards and local teacher/OT/ESP/PSP/DECE executive members across the province in the last week of April and the first week of May to share ETFO’s plan for commencing Phase 1 of work-to-rule strike action on May 11. Phase 1 directed teachers and occasional teachers to withdraw from participation in all Ministry of Education initiatives and some administrative duties connected to board activities. Most significant was the refusal to participate in EQAO testing and to provide comments on report cards. Stewards in all locals shared the details of this plan with members before it was shared publicly at a press conference on May 8. Talks resumed briefly on May 11, the first day of the job action, but broke down within hours. On the evenings of May 11 and 12, ETFO hosted four telephone town halls to answer members’ questions and ensure clarity on work that is struck in Phase 1. Much is at stake in this job action. However, ETFO members are taking back control of their working conditions in the face of a control agenda on the part of OPSBA and the government, an agenda that would take us back more than a decade and would strip collective agreements of articles that we have bargained for over many years. Job action is never easy, but ETFO members have already shown their resolve. They have demonstrated that they will not accept an austerity agenda and a lack of respect for their professional judgement. The May 14 announcement of EQAO testing being cancelled in boards hit by strikes unless labour relations improve proved that our actions can make a difference! Job action is just one way that ETFO members will show OPSBA and the government that when it comes to protecting ETFO members’ working conditions and students’ learning conditions, ETFO means business. Joint political action with the other three teacher affiliates and CUPE Ontario will put further pressure on OPSBA and the government to reconsider the strips on the table. Union solidarity was evident at a Queen’s Park rally to support the three striking Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation locals on May 14. From rallies and joint weekly pickets outside Liberal constituency offices, to meetings with trustees and information pickets at local school board meetings, we will continue to educate OPSBA and the government about the issues that they find perplexing. On the DECE/ESP/PSP front, we put forward a strong case on May 20 at the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) for why supervision should be a central table item for these members. On May 22 the OLRB delivered its decision that supervision is a local item. Although disappointing, the decision finalizes the central list and bargaining at the support table can get underway. The next several weeks are critical as we continue to defend our hard-won collective agreements. Stay strong, remain committed to our cause and stay tuned to etfocb.ca for the latest and most accurate information as events unfold. In solidarity, Sam Hammond
Twenty-two ETFO locals from as far away as Ontario North East, Rainbow, Near North,Ottawa-Carleton, Avon-Maitland, Thames Valley, Bluewater, Limestone, Hastings-Prince Edward, Renfrew County, Greater Essex County, Kawartha Pine Ridge, Simcoe County, Upper Grand, and Trillium Lakelands joined GTA area locals at the April 21 “We are Ontario” Day of Action at Queen’s Park.