Opening Statement



Sunday, 11 December 2011

Our Social Media Protocols + Confidentiality Agreement

Here's what's new regarding the public discussions on our new TSU Confidentiality Agreement and Social Media Protocols at our Wednesday December 8th executive meeting. A revised Confidentiality Agreement has been prepared. All executive members were to sign it before they left the meeting. All committee members must sign it the next time they come to the TSU offices. This is effectively immediately.


We need some frank talk here. Of course I don't disclose info from our private executive sessions, as abhorrent as I sometimes might feel the very concept can be. There is a longstanding and clear ruling on this. Despite my discomfort with the frequency of these they often are quite necessary for very practical and necessary reasons. For example it would be wrong to share sensitive grievance information. Similarly info about our unit's Collective Bargaining strategy and the like.


Otherwise, I feel it is necessary, as your elected TSU 3rd VP to be able to discuss the important issues you want to know about; the teacher members whom I was elected to serve. Our monthly executive meetings are publicly open to you, just like the information we share and discuss there. It's the same with any other democratically elected body. Most of you can't attend in person during school hours but the info shared and discussed is, repeat is, publicly available for you to read and hear about. Likewise the revised Confidentiality Agreement is now available for you to sign.


You will recall, I wrote quite a few blogs last month about freedom of speech issues, especially in regards to the development and implementation of our new Social Media Protocols and Confidentiality Agreement initiatives. No need to repeat those here. You can review them in my November Blog Archives below this column. My "Blog Manifesto Revisited" might be of particular interest, or perhaps my "Weekend in Late November" blog or even some of the political satire in my "Just Supposin' - A Bloggers Christmas Tale", should you wish to revisit these on your own.


Anyhow, let me update you on what has since transpired. President Jansen assured me before the December 8th executive meeting that the Social Media Protocols and the Confidentiality Agreement are two separate, and not inclusive documents. As such, I would find neither particularly controversial  in and of themselves. For example, at the top of the TSU Confidentiality Agreement, which all members of executive and committees are now required to sign,  it states that the information covered refers to "confidential, private and sensitive data", such that;


TSU and OECTA maintain and handle confidential, private and sensitive data. In order to safeguard this information TSU restricts access to information to those who have a legitimate and approved need to access, it is required that all who have access acknowledge that information  will be accessed for legitimate business reasons on as-needed basis only.

Of course this has always been the case for a lot of TSU business when we are representing the member's private interests, be that with documents or "in camera" private committee discussions. Again consider the example of grievance and collective bargaining strategies and sensitive information. These have never been freely and publicly shared without very specific and necessary restraints. That's common practise for any large organisation such as our own.


If it's just a formality to codify this with a new "TSU Confidentiality Agreement", who could argue or complain? We are dealing with very specific "confidential" information that can't be justifiably shared and quite reasonably so. This is of course perfectly fine and acceptable. I'm not aware of this being a particularly pressing concern at TSU as of late, but if that is all it's about then so be it. But why then the dire, pressing need for every executive member to sign the new revised copy before the end of our last meeting? Likewise why require every TSU committee member to sign it, effective immediately, the next time they come in the office? Something seems out of proportion here.


At the executive meeting I explained to President Jansen, that I never would sign ANY document that was just handed to me without having ample chance to consider it thoroughly. This would apply to a commercial contract, a board form and now similarly a union agreement. As I prepared to leave the executive meeting I assured him that I would afterwards look it over, seek clarification if need be, and then if it was acceptable, hand it in at my earliest convenience. I got the impression he seemed to think this was perfectly reasonable, and the problem was solved. No more issue here I thought, or was there?


Unfortunately, the ugly gossip mill was going full tilt at Thursday night's Christmas Pub at the Crooked Cue. Most of us are above it but invariably there is always somebody or other going around from table to table badmouthing somebody else, usually for political reasons. Rather ironic I should think considering the issues at hand. The latest is that I was being called into Rene's office next day. I was going to be given an ultimatum. I must sign the confidentiality agreement before I left. Of course our members immediately came to ask me what this was all about as the story crept across the room. Sigh. Alas. Such is public life.


As a political figure, I expect this from time to time and was quite amenable to address the surprise story for anyone whom might ask. I must admit I was very disappointed that it was being shared in an unbecoming, backhanded, gossipy manner. The person in question never identified themselves to me, though of course everyone else told me who they were. I was somewhat surprised especially since she didn't even ask me first if it was true. But such is gossip. This isn't the first time, nor do I suspect it will be her last. Vague apologies and excuses quickly grow wearisome.


Please note; with my blog any "information" I share is upfront. It's not secret information that would even be covered by our new agreement. What raises my ire is unnecessary secrecy within our union affairs.I believe that should be challenged. Here it was now, in the whispered words and cold stares behind my back. Creepy or what? If I had been called into the office by Rene for a private talk on the alleged issue would such confidential information be covered by the agreement? Also consider, what purpose does such gossip serve? It's highly unethical and suspect at best. It does not provide good, useful, informed and honest service to the members who have elected us. So who is being served?  What's really going on?


Of course the gossip isn't true. At least I received no such request from the president, nor did I see him, or have any plans to meet with him next day. All of our discussions have been perfectly amicable, even when we disagree, as far as I am aware. I think so. So as I continue to be very suspicious about the kerfuffle over the need, haste and gossip mongering involved in the writing up and enforcing of our new Confidentiality Agreement, well now you know why.


Equally puzzling was the much heated public discussion at our Wednesday executive meeting about how to enforce the new Confidentiality Agreement. In fact, there are no provisions in place for disciplining members like myself or anyone else who chooses not to sign it upon demand.


Vice President Bruno seemed quite perturbed. He quite publicly exclaimed he might very well have to go to the school board to complain if our new TSU policies are not enforced. I am afraid this left me at an utter loss. My understanding is that the Social Media Protocol and the Confidentiality Agreement are not one and the same. In his comments he mentioned both, most specifically in the case of Social Media Protocols in direct reference to executive member blogs. Whose blog could that be? TSU's confidentiality issues in regards to the Confidentiality Agreement being discussed haven't been violated. Why then is this all back on the table again? Also as any teacher unionist should know, union issues are dealt with at the union level, and not through adverse reports about members or policies to board management. There are names for this but I won't repeat them here. It should be very interesting to see where this might all now lead from such a unionist perspective!


It's very interesting how Social Media actually figures into all of this. My understanding from the meeting and my talks with Rene is that Social Media, such as blogs, email, cellphones, Twitter and Facebook, will be covered separately by a new protocol our executive will develop for our unit. OECTA Provincial is currently developing a Social Media policy that we will certainly want to consider. I was quite satisfied earlier in our meeting, when it was made clear that a wide range of other existing materials on the subject could also be consulted and discussed. I've eagerly offered to contribute to the effort and abide, of course, by the new protocol. To the best of my knowledge I'm the only TSU member with a blog but if any of the rest of you have any particular knowledge or interest in the wide range of social media that is being used so much to communicate these days, I would certainly hope you are consulted in the process too.


You elected me to serve you. I will not violate TSU confidentiality, as I now understand it, but quite clearly a lot of clarification and debate will need to follow, especially I would think, as each of you on our committees, from Staff Rep, to Beginning Teachers and everyone inbetween, is told to sign our new Confidentiality Agreement, or perhaps even more so, as we develop our Social Media Protocols in the months ahead.

We have a lot to consider. Many if not most of us have a cellphone. Then there's Facebook, Twitter and at the very least you have email. The list of social media to consider goes on and on. Our younger teachers have grown up with it, our hardcore teckies of all ages live by it. It is everywhere, and like it or not it is how people increasingly communicate these days. For better or worse, it is not a genie we will be able to force back into a bottle, or contain by the old methods and rules.


The Supreme Court of Canada is currently bracing for a wave of appeals on the use of electronic media and challenges about how to make our old privacy laws fit the same modern day high tech scenarios. Quite clearly a TSU executive with  nine teacher members will not be able to do so on it's own, in private session, nor simply with our own immediate resources. The challenges can only be expected to increase and become more widespread and diverse in the years ahead. As Toronto lawyer Scott Hutchinson, grappling with the issue, recently lamented;


"Rules made back when we talked about kings and castles do not work when we are talking about mobile devices and information technology"
Clearly Social Media Protocols and Confidentiality Agreements are not something that can be created in secrecy, or enforced with a similar old school approach to rules. The future is very divergent by nature. You need to be in the know, and we need your help. Let's see if we can rise to the challenge wide eyed and aware within our TSU teacher's union!

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