A positive outcome of the current provincial government’s first year in office has been increased public engagement by ETFO members around education-related issues.
If You Work in Ontario, This Your Fight (From the President)
The past year of negotiations has been difficult for ETFO and other public sector unions. With the release of the Drummond report in February, the government began a systematic assault on public sector workers. The premier and the education minister repeatedly demonstrated disrespect for honest and transparent discussions with educator unions. The culmination of this came with the September passing of Bill 115, legislation that interferes with collective bargaining rights and places the government above the reach of the Ontario Human Rights Code, Ontario Labour Relations Act, and the courts. The legislation has broad implications for all Ontarians and has been called an unprecedented intrusion into guaranteed collective bargaining rights by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
While our legal challenge to Bill 115 has seen tremendous support across the province, Premier McGuinty’s sudden resignation in October and his prorogation of the legislature raised more questions about the Liberal government’s commitment to the democratic process and connection to what used to be their electoral base.
TOXIC TO THE EDUCATION SECTOR
Bill 115 is toxic to the education sector, the broader public sector, and to democracy in Ontario. As constitutional and human rights lawyer Fay Faraday said on a November 2012 episode of TVO’s TheAgenda, “The fact that there are financial consequences isn’t something that gives the government the right to automatically override the charter. A lot of this case is about the democracy that we want to have. These are fundamental rights. And they only have meaning if we actually have access to them. They are not just something that you get when the economy is good.”
Within this hostile context for negotiations, ETFO has repeatedly articulated our intention to bargain in good faith as we are legally entitled to under the Ontario Labour Relations Act. We have also indicated that we are more than willing to participate in discussions at the provincial level as long as three criteria are met: that we have a transparent process, that there are people knowledgeable about the education sector at the discussion table, and that everything is up for discussion. Unfortunately our attempts have been consistently met with disrespect. Even in late November when we were invited back to the discussion table with a third party conciliator, these simple, common sense parameters turned out to be major stumbling blocks. The minister came in at the eleventh hour, terminated the discussions, and subsequently misrepresented the whole process to the media. We decided that what is best for our members is to continue to attempt to resolve our contracts locally.
While these past months have been difficult, they have also been incredibly inspiring. Teachers and other education professionals across the province have demonstrated that we are a force to be reckoned with when we organized a rally for education that drew more than 15,000 people to Queen’s Park, and mobilized with other members of public sector unions and the community to aid the NDP victory in the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election.
We will continue to mobilize until Bill 115 is stopped and we are able to exercise our democratic right to free and fair collective bargaining. Members across the province have organized incredibly successful and spirited rallies, work-to-rule actions, information pickets, and letter writing campaigns. Members’ thoughtful letters to the editor have been published across the province and have helped the broader community understand both our perspectives and the implications of a government that would circumvent our democracy for political expediency.
In November, ETFO launched a campaign to stop Bill 115. Radio ads, billboards, and over 100 community papers across Ontario all carry the message that Bill 115 undermines the guarantees made to all Canadians under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Go to stopbill115.ca to learn more and make your voice heard.
INTERVENTION BY THE GOVERNMENT
Decades of leaders before us stood up for the hard fought rights that we are defending today. The rights of our members cannot be diminished because others have not stood firm to protect them. Members have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action, and together we will continue to refuse a process that undermines everything we stand for as a union. Withdrawing from voluntary activities is one of the only ways that teachers can protest the loss of our rights. It also shows students that as we teach them to stand up for their principles, we stand up for ours.
We are in a fight not only for ourselves, but for the generations that came before us and the generations that will follow us. While the government is targeting teachers today, Bill 115 sets a dangerous precedent for all Ontarians. Regardless of where you work, if you work in Ontario, this is your fight. If the minister enacts the process the provincial government has invented with Bill 115, we will respond with unyielding political action.
Stay in touch with your local. Visit stopbill115. ca. Get up to date information from controlyourfuture.ca
The 2019-2020 school year was one for the history books. We started the year bargaining with a Conservative government determined to make massive cuts to public education and ended with a global pandemic and our members having to adjust to emergency distance learning over the course of just a couple of weeks.