Howard Goldblatt, founding partner of Goldblatt Partners LLP
In Ontario, teacher and education worker collective bargaining is governed by the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act. There are two levels of collective agreements for ETFO members. Central agreements govern all members across the province. Local agreements set out requirements to ETFO locals in a specific geographic area. But it hasn’t always been this way.
The ETFO podcast Elementary spoke to lawyer Howard Goldblatt, founding partner of Goldblatt Partners LLP, who knows the history of the Act inside and out.
What existed in the years before the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act came into force?
It’s quite complicated. In 1998, Mike Harris passed legislation that consolidated school boards. That happened across the province and reduced the number of school boards to roughly 35.
Before the passage of the Act, school board negotiations were done on a board-by-board basis. This was important because boards were able to raise money through local levies – local taxes – to support particular projects that had been negotiated. All that ended with the legislation in 1998. The funding became centralized, and all the money that goes to the school boards now comes from the province.
With the passage of one piece of legislation, the whole funding system, the whole structure changed, but the legislation governing school board bargaining didn't change. It became an incredibly frustrating experience, because the school boards would say we’d like to do something, but we can't because we need to go to the province to get money.
So, in 2004, there was an informal set of negotiations called the provincial framework agreement. And ETFO was very much a part of that. During that time, ETFO got money for supervision and for preparation. In the next round of negotiations the government brought ETFO to something called a Provincial Discussion Table. And they basically said, “We’re prepared to bargain. But there are a few conditions that have to be attached to it.” So that was 2008 to 2012.
Then we have the bad time, in 2012, which was the passage of Bill 115. ETFO led in attacking that legislation with a constitutional challenge. And obviously, if you know any of the history, ETFO was successful and the legislation was repealed. And then coming into 2014, the government passed the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act.
What input, if any, did education unions have into the writing of the Act?
The position taken by the education unions was that the government had to be responsible and responsive and have a formal role in bargaining, and they were very much advocating for that.
So how has the Act affected the ability of education workers to protect public education?
The effect of the Act was to make the government a participant, and there’s specific obligation in the legislation that requires them to bargain in good faith. This changes them from being a ghost at the bargaining table to being a real active participant, one that has to behave appropriately because of good faith bargaining requirements.
What can ETFO members take away from the history of the Act?
One of the things that’s positive is that we now have a much more sophisticated form of bargaining compared to what we had before. But the second thing, the most important thing, is that you’ve got the party that matters at the table.
You can listen and subscribe to the ETFO podcast at etfo.ca, or on most podcast apps.
Meagan Perry is a member of the ETFO executive staff.