Article

The Provincial Agreement: Next Steps (Collective Bargaining)

Christine Brown

For a dramatic several days in early February, the activities of ETFO, the Ontario  Public   School  Boards’  Association (OPSBA),  and  the  Minister  of  Education were the subject of intense  media scrutiny. Though  that  phase  of  press  conferences, media releases, and speculation has now receded, the bargaining road  still to travel is long, and by no means smooth. All told, there are  approximately  80  local  collective  agreements for  elementary teachers and occasional teachers that must be negotiated.

On February 10, the Minister of Education made a new offer to ETFO and OPSBA in an effort to reach a four-year provincial agreement. On February 12, following a meeting with ETFO, local teacher and occasional teacher presidents and the ETFO executive unanimously agreed to accept the terms of this agreement.

There  is  a  certain  amount  of  confusion around  the   sequence  and  substance  of  the events that have transpired over the past couple of  months.  It  is  important  to  clarify   what really  happened,  since  media  reports  sometimes  missed important elements of this very complex story. In early December, the Minister of  Education offered a carrot to  OPSBA and to ETFO. The carrot was the prospect of salary increases of 3 percent per year for four years, plus  other  funding enhancements. This offer, however,  was   conditional  on  the  two  sides, union and management, reaching a framework agreement on various central bargaining issues.

OPSBA, representing the local school boards, came back with a final proposal to take advantage of the minister’s funding offer, but only in conjunction  with  strips  to  existing collective agreements. Among other things, OPSBA’s proposed strips included 100 minutes of additional supervision  duty  per  week  for  teachers  and the loss of teachers’ control over part of their preparation time.

Put another way, at no time was there ever an offer of 12 percent in salary over four years. There  was  only  an  offer  of  12  percent  plus strips to existing working conditions and severe intrusions into the professional  autonomy of teachers. ETFO rejected this Trojan horse.

By contrast, the subsequent offer that was accepted  by  the  union  in  February  contains a lower salary  offer  (2 percent in each of the first two years, and 3 percent in each of the last two  years),  plus  the  other  funding  enhancements in the original offer. Crucially, there are no  strips to  working conditions. Preparation time is increased by 40 minutes over the life of the agreement, and its use remains a matter of the individual teacher’s discretion. The cap on supervision duties that members fought so hard for in the last bargaining round is not only maintained  but  strengthened.  Attendance  at staff meetings remains voluntary.

In  addition,  there  will  be  a  small  reduction in class size in grades 4 to 8, funding for improvements in  insured benefits, additional funding  for  occasional  teacher  salaries  and working conditions, and other modest increases in funding in areas such as professional learning. In those collective agreements where there were not already limitations on staff meetings (e.g., limits on the length or frequency of such meetings), limitations now apply. Taken as a whole the provincial agreement is by no means what we had hoped for, but in the long run it is a step forward.

And now the really hard work begins. The provincial agreement is merely a framework for local negotiations, and its provisions will not come  into  effect  until  they  are  incorporated into local collective agreements. The provincial agreement  came  about  through  a  voluntary process, and does not override existing bargaining rights under the Labour Relations Act.

Under  the  terms  of  the  provincial  agreement, the school boards and ETFO have agreed to a “no strikes, no lockouts” provision for the next several weeks. This time period is a window for negotiations during which the parties will focus on resolving the remaining issues at the bargaining table, which consist of items addressed in the provincial agreement itself and important local issues.

The time frame is short, and the parties face a significant challenge – a greater challenge, by the way, than our OSSTF colleagues, whose negotiators had to deal with far fewer local agreements. Should negotiations dur- ing that time period fail to bring about agreements, the union retains its rights to initiate job action once all the necessary steps under provincial labour law have taken place.

We entered these provincial negotiations in good faith, and in that same spirit we will be moving on to the next phase. ETFO bargains for settlements, not for strikes. We hope and expect that good collective agreements can be reached across the province for all teacher and occasional teacher bargaining units.

Here is what you can expect in the coming weeks:

  • There will be an intense round of negotiating sessions happening all over the province; a great deal remains to be negotiated locally.
  • For now, previously scheduled strike votes are on hold.
  • You will continue to be informed through regular bargaining bulletins.
  • The ETFO website will be regularly updated with bargaining  news.
  • The ETFO e-Newsletter will also be a good source of current information; if you are not already a subscriber, check the top right corner of the website’s home page for information on subscribing.
  • If all goes as anticipated, you will be notified that there is a ratification vote being held in your local sometime this spring. This will take the form of a membership meeting and an opportunity to discuss the contents of the proposed collective agreement.
  • You can continue to support the bargaining process and your local bargaining team by staying informed, talking to your school steward and local executive members, and attending general membership meetings.

At the end of the day, our provincial labour laws give you, the member, the last word on the contents of the  collective agreement that will govern your compensation, working conditions, and day-to-day workplace rights for the next four years. Whether you are a teacher or an occasional teacher, an experienced staff member or someone new to the profession – you have a stake in these negotiations. Their outcome will affect the fabric of your working life for years to come.

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