Opening Statement



Monday, 7 November 2011

Why Do We Need A Teacher Union?

Why is OECTA TSU important to you as a teacher? We belong to a union. In Ontario the public school teacher affiliates all have unions [OECTA, OSSTF, ETFO, AEFO etc]. The union is first and foremost responsible for collective bargaining. That of course involves negotiating your salary and working conditions.


It's sometimes difficult for teachers to think of ourselves as unionists because we are not labourers or trades people. We consider ourselves to be professionals. We belong to and have a majority vote on a professional governing body that licenses our teaching certificates, the OCT: Ontario College of Teachers. Doctors, lawyers and other professionals have these licencing organizations too.


Teachers know we need to have a good pedagogy to teach effectively. Not everyone can teach. Just because somebody is an expert on this or that doesn't mean they can effectively share and pass on their information in a meaningful way to others. Therefore on the professional level OECTA, your union, is also involved in professional development in the form of seminars, online courses and additional qualification courses. Our government relations department has had a very good consulting arrangement with the Ontario Ministry Of Education, under the current Liberal government for the past eight years. The Ministry consults with OECTA extensively and value our input because of our members expertise in education.  We have often asserted ourselves as professionals, especially since the attack on public education during the Harris years in the 1990's.


Politically speaking OECTA is also a  provincial education lobby group. Our agenda is to protect and forward the cause of our profession, our students and our schools. We also advocate important social justice and labour issues that effect the families of the children we teach. We know that students suffering from poverty, abuse and so on, don't learn well in school. Add to that our professional pedagogical expertise in education and you get our 2011 provincial election campaign, where as teachers we ask the public to vote for an education friendly party candidates "Who Speaks for Children".


You probably saw and heard our OECTA ads on billboards and radio. That's really another topic I've all ready dealt with in my fall provincial election blogs. Check my September and October Archives below this main column. Suffice to say that because you have a teacher labour union to negotiate your salary and working conditions as public service professionals you have gained a lot better work conditions and benefits commensurate to your position than would otherwise be the case. It is highly unlikely that without our unions the powers that be would've given us these strictly out of the goodness of their heart. Our hard fought union gains include but are not limited to;


-Pro Rated salaries or paid summer vacations. Until the 1970's teachers were usually laid off for the summer and often had to find other summer work, perhaps flipping burgers or serving beer. Our salaries were also  considerably less throughout the school year year than they are now, even discounting inflation. Our teacher unions fought for higher wages, spread across the year at an even rate as a part of our salary terms, to reflect the seasonal holidays and highly educated standards we are required to meet as teachers. Before the 1970's the janitor often earned more than you because they apparently did more hard work while all we did was talk, sit or work at a desk, according to the powers that be. We appreciate the hard often unrecognized work they do at school too. Still we now enjoy good pay, benefits, and working conditions for the important professional services we provide thanks to our teachers union.


-Maternal and paternal leave: Women Catholic teachers who got married automatically received pink dismissal slips even into the 1970's because it was assumed they would stay home from now on to have as many babies as possible. Maternity, let alone paternity leaves, where the father can stay home with the children instead, were another hard fought union gain!


-Just Cause Dismissals: The school board had the managerial right to dismiss you without first providing just cause. They did not have to provide a proper warning or a chance to remedy the situation first, if they wanted to fire you. This was an especially hard fought battle for our Toronto Secondary Unit during the 1990's!


-Legal Representation: OECTA retains a legal department to represent teachers who are treated unfairly or accused of breaking the law in carrying out their duties. They also can help us to grieve situations where administration or the school board makes arbitrary decisions that violate our contract. Contract violations still happen, as we all know, but perhaps less well known is that OECTA quite often wins these cases if they go to arbitration! Important new precedents are being set to help all of us avoid encountering these same problems time and again. If it weren't for our unions few of us could afford to challenge contract violations, nor would we have even have a negotiated contract to start with.


-Self Directed PD Days: OECTA TSU just negotiated these for you. You can now access the Professional Development money, in the form of release days, that was provided by the Ministry of Education. It was supposed to be spent on teacher PD, not just inservices on Ministry and school board initiatives. If this is not used up in the short time remaining this school year, the left over funds will have to be rolled over to your union for your own PD use as you see fit!


Currently a small fortune remains in the fund. Each of our teachers are entitled to two release days this school year to organize or attend PD activities on your own. Some teachers set up their own conferences and seminars. Others use them to visit different schools to learn first hand how their program has been implemented elsewhere. Teacher's know best what our own professional needs are and have now been provided, with the help of your union, the paid release time to pursue PD activities decided upon by you, not just the school board, or the Ministry of Education.


-Health and Safety: OECTA successfully lobbied the Liberal government to put teacher safety in our schools under the MOL Ministry of Labour just like any other worker, for protection from assaults, harassment and other workplace hazards. The Safe Schools Act set the practices and standards for student safety. Most of  us don't realize that the new Health and Safety Act has done the same for teachers at school. Hopefully most of us don't work in unsafe or unhealthy environments, but if you are assaulted, harassed or suffer any type of workplace injury know this: The MOL can investigate and take action to guarantee your workplace safety. This has all ready begun to happen in some of our more challenging inner city schools here in Toronto. Look for some precedent setting settlements in the days ahead.


Health care: We only have a national public health care system in Canada because the unions pushed for it. As a TCDSB teacher you have an excellent package of health benefits, which were further topped off just last spring. We also know none of our students can be turned down or have their parents pay bankrupting medical and hospital fees when sickness or injury happens. Everyone is entitled to schooling in Canada regardless of whether they have a physical or mental handicap or not. This has been another example of the big way our unions have helped advocate for a social net to provide for everyone, not just the wealthy. In  many other well developed countries this is not the case!

So the next time you hear somebody lamenting "big bad fat cat unions" in conversation or in the media please know that it is business and administration that stands to benefit most from that mindset, not you, as a teacher professional, or other workers who like us belong to a union. Most of your officers, chairs and committees members, like myself, work strictly on a volunteer basis to serve you on the union. Such claims are even quite insidious when you consider all the important gains our unions have made to protect the dignity of labour, our profession and the working families in Canada. As a member you have a vote, on everything from electing your executive to debating our important issues at our Unit and Provincial AGM's [Annual General Meetings], to approving your contract. One could even argue that in regards to direct member involvement we are more democratic than most groups, including the political parties who often criticize us the most. Unfortunately a lot of us don't exercise our vote. Next time you hear about a OECTA TSU meeting, activity, seminar or event, please come to participate. You will be pleasantly surprised how much your union reflects your interests as a professional and a union member, if you will only stand up, speak out and have your say.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Who wrote this article? There is no name attached to it and they forgot to mention the unilaterally imposed MOU of July 2012 wherin OECTA provincial sold us out. How do they explain the local units' complicity with that event where teachers were not even allowed to vote on essential what was their contract!

David Chiarelli said...

Dear Anon!

Thanks for participating. As to your comment: This is my blogsite. I write the blogs here unless they are identified accordingly. Check the header on the top of the page for more information.

You are looking at an archive page from when I was on my local executive in 2011. The blog archive is located below this column. If you read the blogs since the July 5 OECTA MOU you will see that most of the readers and writers here as well as myself hardly agree with what our leaders have done. Still, we need a union, and this is why, just not ones that also screw us around and sell us out.

Hope this helps!

Solidarity!

David C

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