Working-To-Rule to Protect Our Union, Our Values and Our Profession: Hoping for the Best; Planning for the Worst

Lisa Mastrobuono

In September 2014, ETFO began central table discussions with the government and the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) to negotiate renewed collective agreements for our teacher and occasional teacher members. Talks at the central support table for ETFO’s DECE, ESP and PSP members began in October 2014.

ETFO enters each round of bargaining with the goal of reaching fair collective agreements, not to undertake strike action. Even so, the phrase “hope for the best; plan for the worst” has always been part of ETFO’s collective bargaining planning. That means having a proactive strategy ready for every possible development at the bargaining table.

Early in the process, ETFO was concerned about the long list of items OPSBA and the government wanted to discuss at the central bargaining tables. Anticipating challenges might arise that would affect the progress of discussions, ETFO asked members for a strike mandate to support fair and meaningful negotiations. An all-member central vote was held online in November 2014, and ETFO members voted 95 percent in favour of strike action if necessary. The strike vote result sent a powerful message to OPSBA and the government that ETFO members expected their professionalism, as well as all of their existing collective agreement rights and entitlements, to be respected during this round of bargaining.

OPSBA’s Management Rights Agenda Revealed

In February 2015 as central bargaining for teachers and occasional teachers continued, ETFO found its concerns were warranted. OPSBA finally revealed its lengthy list of demands. They included increased supervision time; principal control over teacher preparation time; having teachers do more testing and less teaching; eliminating class size language in local collective agreements; taking DECEs, ESPs and PSPs out of classrooms and away from students to do non-classroom tasks; and giving principals the “flexibility” to pass over experienced, qualified teachers and occasional teachers for assignments.

In short, OPSBA wanted to turn back the clock on decades of negotiated improvements to education-sector working and learning conditions.

Discussions at the teacher and occasional teacher bargaining table in March failed to move OPSBA off any of its demands. On March 31, ETFO applied to the Ministry of Labour for conciliation, hoping the assistance of a conciliator could help parties at the bargaining table kick-start meaningful negotiations. That attempt was not successful, and so in April ETFO applied for a “no board” report, paving the way to legal strike action.

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ETFO Members at rally in the winter

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fisheye photo of etfo members sitting around round tables at annual meeting

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