Understanding Bill 115: Q+A With Gene Lewis (From the General Secretary)

Gene Lewis

What is Bill 115 and how will it affect the membership?

Bill 115 is the legislation that was passed by the Liberal government to legislate ETFO collective agreements and those of  other education  unions. The  bill  identifies the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) as the “template” for contracts. The MOU includes a salary freeze, three unpaid PA days (1.5% of salary), 50% payment of the entitlement for movement on the salary grid, a reduction of annual sick days from 20 to 10, and the loss of all banked sick days. Members currently eligible for a retirement gratuity have that gratuity frozen as of August 31, 2012, and members hired effective September 1, 2012 will not have access to a gratuity. It is unclear under Bill 115 how these provisions will fit into local collective agreements.
The legislation constitutes unwarranted and unnecessary interference with the right to strike and lockout, giving Cabinet the power to intervene to prevent a strike either before or  after a  strike has commenced. However, the legislation does not specifically remove the right to take strike votes or action under the Ontario Labour Relations Act.

What does this mean for ETFO collective agreements?

The bill is an unprecedented intrusion into the established collective bargaining process and employee rights. Consistent with our constitutional challenge, it is the position of the federation that the terms and conditions  of  the  collective  agreements negotiated in the last round of bargaining are still in effect. We will be filing grievances in instances where those provisions are not honoured by local boards.

What is going  to happen with local  bargaining?

Consistent  with  our  constitutional  challenge to the legislation and ETFO’s stated objective to obtain local agreements under the Ontario Labour Relations Act, we will continue to attempt to bargain locally. Generally, the legislation provides that where agreements are not concluded by December 31, 2012, the Minister and Cabinet can act to impose local agreements and ban strikes. We are continuing with local bargaining since there are a number of issues that we want to attempt to resolve at the local table. Each local has a number of priorities contained  within its preliminary submission and local bargaining is an opportunity to address these issues.

What is the Charter challenge that the President mentioned in  his column? What will it look like?

Bill  115  has  extraordinary  provisions.  It gives power to  the Minister and Cabinet to impose or remove terms of a negotiated collective agreement and to prevent strikes and lockouts even if no strike or lockout is threatened. The  Canadian Civil  Liberties  Association believes that Bill 115 goes too far. The CCLA argues that  Bill 115  violates the Charter-protected rights of association by preempting our collective bargaining rights and suspending our right to strike. Further, it undermines the democratic process by giving wide ranging powers to Cabinet and the Minister, with no input from the Legislature. We are currently preparing an application to challenge the legislation under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Applications are being prepared by OSSTF and CUPE as well.

 Was the August 28 rally at Queen’s Park  the  political day of protest that members voted for?

ETFO members voted 93 percent in favour of holding a day of protest. Quoting the ballot: “The one-day political protest will occur only if the Liberal government votes to support at Second Reading a bill that strips collective agreements and/or interferes with the collective bargaining process.” At  the  time  members  voted,  the  assumption was that the bill would be introduced during the school year. In fact, it wasn’t. It was introduced during the summer. Honouring the all-member vote, we had a rally at Queen’s Park on August 28 at  second reading. Nearly 15,000  ETFO members along with CUPE and OSSTF and  other  union  and  community  allies demonstrated in front of the legislature. This was the day of protest. ETFO locals in the north who were unable to come to Queen’s Park had a very successful rally on the same day in Thunder Bay. Additional local or regional days of protest may occur during the school year.

What should members expect in the next collective agreement that begins in  September 2014?

The provisions of the 2014 collective agreement  will  depend  in  large  part  on  how members respond to the current attack on collective bargaining. The right of employees to bargain collectively without legislative interference has become a defining characteristic of a democratic society. It is a right that has been earned not given. The Premier has already said that the government intends to restructure salary grids in the 2014 collective agreements to effect savings. Given the current circumstances it is unclear what other rights the government may attack. The best way to safeguard the future of our profession is to stand strong now.

How should members be active in the coming weeks and months?

1. Push the pause button on voluntary activities
We believe  members  will  want  to  make personal decisions about  what  voluntary services they can afford to provide beyond their legislated and contractual obligations given the Liberal government’s treatment of educators. It’s time to consider very carefully whether to “take a pause” on the voluntary activities that we undertake every day. We will focus on teaching students and ensuring student safety.

2.  Participate in McGuinty Mondays
To make sure that the Liberal government knows that we will not forget its treatment of  educators,  we  have  introduced  “McGuinty  Mondays.”  On  Mondays  we  are asking members to focus on the instruction and safety of students only, arrive at school no more than 30 minutes before class and stay no more than 30 minutes after. “Push the pause button” on meetings that you might otherwise have attended before or after the instructional day, during  recess,  on  lunch  breaks,  or  during preparation time. It is acceptable to attend meetings held during instructional time if release time is provided.

3.  Get Political
Email, phone, visit local MPPs regularly to express your outrage at the  government’s actions. Let the government know that it is not business as usual, and that you will not sit quietly as your rights are taken away. Plan now for the next election.

4.   Exercise your  rights  by voting to approve strike action at  local strike vote meetings.

5.  Stay in  touch
We are at the beginning of a long fight – one that includes legal  challenges, strike votes,  and  other  actions  to  defend  our democratic rights. This situation is changing all the time. Make sure that you visit the website regularly, subscribe to the electronic newsletter, and stay in touch with your local. Solidarity and sustained action are essential to fend off further actions and regain our rights.