On Friday, September 11, after just seven days of bargaining, the Ontario Public School Boards Association and government negotiators told the mediator facilitating our discussions they “were done” and wouldn’t negotiate further with ETFO. In effect, they walked away from the table.
The Provincial Agreement: Next Steps (Collective Bargaining)
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.
Bill 115 is the legislation that was passed by the Liberal government to legislate ETFO collective agreements and those of other education unions.