Opening Statement



Tuesday, 12 June 2012

More June PDT: A Commentary!

Our June PDT talks leave me especially bewildered and confused about the Liberal government's sudden and drastic change in relations with our teacher associations since this spring. We have experienced almost ten years cooperating together to rebuild the fine education system we have in Ontario today. I've worked closely with Education Minister Laurel Broten [MPP Etobicoke Lakeshore] at the local riding association level, since OECTA first supported her with teacher campaign workers and member donations, in her first successful 2003 provincial election win. TSU helped Laurel get all the Toronto teacher associations' endorsement, and then defeat long term Conservative incumbent Morley Kells. We were all so happy and hopeful both with Laurel and for our teachers, students and schools.

I've proudly served on Laurel's riding association since then. I continue to do so now. That's because I genuinely like Laurel a lot and have great respect for her after all the tough political battles we have been through together. I do not consider myself just a teacher on her riding association but also a member of the Liberal family in Etobicoke Lakeshore. It has been a common feeling among many teachers who have personally met or worked with Laurel since the defeat of Harris' Conservative government.

Many of Laurel's campaign supporters since 2003 have been from all our different Ontario teacher union affiliates. We have a lot of war stories in common from the good, to the bad and the ugly. Actually Laurel is one of the few people still around who remembers my own particular contributions to the good fight against the Tory's, and can even share a good laugh about some of it, as scary as the struggle was at the time. Indeed, Laurel has always proudly acknowledged our support, even as recently as at her New Year's Levee, when she noted that a third of her campaign volunteers in last fall's election were teachers.

So where does that leave us now with the June PDT talks? Well the outlook is not good at all. Will we soon find ourselves as teachers on the opposite side of the widening chasm? Are we about to plunge back into the deep, dark protest and strike days of the Harris years?

True,  OECTA Provincial PDT talks with the Ministry of Education continue. The talks are focusing more on the main issues now that the government has decided who will sit at the table for the 2014 rounds. [See my last post]. Our relations between the different teacher affiliates [OECTA, ETFO, OSSTF etc] remain amiable, with everybody still talking, even with the government, though OECTA alone is still at the PDT table. For now, it seems our job is to carry on with the negotiations there, exercising quiet diplomacy, as we exhaust every reasonable option possible to reach a "win/win" conclusion to the talks.

Meanwhile what's happening with the other affiliates?  ETFO [the Elementary Teachers Federation] has launched  a public media ad campaign on how good, highly trained and quite professional and caring teachers are necessary to make our education system work. Likewise OECTA will  be continuing soon with the next stage of our Speak for Children campaign. Our emphasis will be on:

-recognizing teacher professionalism [more on this in a future post!]
-more resources for meeting the student's individualized needs
-safe and healthy schools [Think Bill 168 and teacher safety and so on]
-school partnerships based upon respect [Think Respectful Workplace]
-classroom funding, rather than more money for an ever growing bureaucracy and school administration.

For more info please visit: http://speakforchildren.ca/

All the teacher affiliates continue to oppose the PDT demands for:

-the wage and grid freeze
-the sick day reductions
-re-opening our pension plan talks.

If a PDT deal isn't reached by August 31st we might face a number of very bad prospects. Our current contract will expire. The minority Liberal government could seek Conservative party support to legislate it's PDT offer into law, and strip our contracts accordingly. We could face lock outs to enforce compliance as early as this fall. As local contracts are negotiated the possibility of lock outs, work and strike disruptions could continue all across the province, just like during the dreadful 1990's.

Like with the "Days of Action" throughout the Harris years, we could see huge rallies, protests and marches on Queens Park. Our OLF [Ontario Labour Federation] public service and labour union allies will certainly be involved. We could begin work to rule sanctions, or end up on strike soon. Indeed as our veterans will recall over 5000,000 teachers walked out in a two week protest against the Harris government, with promised rotating labour solidarity strikes at the large car plants and even at the nuclear power stations powering our province's energy grid. It's a very dark scenario indeed!

Will widespread provincial labour unrest happen again starting this fall?  Let's face it. The clock is ticking. Our PDT prospects are running out. Who knows where all this will lead us come September? Will we have come full circle back back to the Harris years, this time battling a Liberal government, as it pushes the cuts through possibly with Conservative support? If so, how tragic and ironic!

You can rest assured for now that if there is to be a teacher strike or any work action this fall, your member approval is required first. When will our OECTA vote be? Consider this: ETFO as per the terms of it's constitution, is now holding a membership vote to approve a one day political protest if the government decides to further move the legislation through to second reading at Queen's Park. Remember, the legislature will be breaking for the summer holidays soon but could be recalled anytime before or after the August 31 PDT deadline for the talks, which are still at a deadlock as the summer holidays approach!

OSSTF [the Ontario Secondary School Teacher Federation] are preparing to hold their strike vote between August.29th to September 7th, the week before classes resume. OECTA has still not announced it's plans while we continue to talk at the PDT table. Please continue to read TSU President Jansen's excellent email updates and visit the official TSU website at http://tsuoecta.org for more news and details. You can also drop by my site here as it will stay active throughout the summer. Let's face it, the next school year could be extremely challenging from the get-go! You need to keep informed!

The bottom line seems to be that as the current school year ends so too is the strong, long term relationship between our teachers and the Liberal government. It's lasted almost 10 years and included all the Education Minister's from Gerard Kennedy, through Kathleen Wynne, and the others right up to Minister Broten. If you had told me that we could be in this predicament as recently as this winter I would've laughed in disbelief thinking it was totally impossible. And now? Most unfortunately, one can now only hope for the best.

I seriously doubt the majority of our members would support the Liberal's proposed cuts should we come to a work action and strike vote. Contrary to popular misconceptions about teacher unions, we can no more tell you what to think or do than we can fly in the air. You are smart, qualified professions who know how to think quite well for yourselves.

The scuttlebutt right now is that the pay and grid freeze is quite unpalatable, especially for our beginning teachers and those still on the grid. They stand to lose tens of thousands of dollars each. Likewise our more experienced teachers have made many past contract concessions in exchange for their accumulated sick days, just in case they were needed, perhaps for a personal or family emergency, a health problem or even a difficult, extended pregnancy leave.

Many of us will have to face the prospect of work refusals or go into sick and unhealthy school workplaces of which there is no shortage, especially during the flu season. You could quickly use up your 10 sick days, and then be out of pocket if you get sick and stay home. As for our pension, there's all ready a lot of anger over the evaluation process, and now the Liberal government wants to cut back it's contributions. The Drummond Report? We forwarded a very detailed critique and were willing to talk. These issues will all be very hard for our members to accept. Our province could possibly see teacher job actions coming as early as this September unless we can work out a solution very soon!

I  remain very guardedly optimistic as long as OECTA remains at the PDT talks. Please know that when OECTA walks, that means every reasonable effort for a "win/win" solution has been totally exhausted. OECTA is well known as both a very serious talker and a strong fight contender because in either case, we are never rash, fickle hearted or lacking in commitment. That has been our well established track record dating back to the Harris years!

OECTA still hasn't severed our relations with the Liberal government but it remains unfathomable how it's PDT offers could've ever been formulated without our sufficient input being sought in the first place. We have always enjoyed a very open, constructive and co-operative working relationship with "give and take" on both sides that has served our province well. We have always worked together to find creative solutions to our problems. Then along comes this, right out of the blue!

Past communications had always been excellent with Minister Broten. We worked together to set up Ontario's gold star all day kindergarten program when she was the Minister of Child and Youth Services. We have greatly respected her support on social justice issues, her leading role in the Ontario Woman's Directory, and of course her support for teachers. I, for the life of me, most regretfully cannot understand how our working relationship can now end like this.

OECTA TSU in particular has had long, frequent ongoing contact with Laurel. We offered her our support as one of our favourite Ontario MPP's. We helped get her endorsed by all of the teacher unions and then get elected in 2003, 2007 and 2011. We believed in her. Unfortunately now the possibility of our continuing support seems to be fast coming to an end.

Tell us it isn't so Laurel! Let's hammer out a win-win solution to this ill advised debacle and do it soon. Let's get back on track together building our great Ontario education system into the best in the world bar none, not one which is poisoned by toxic division and discord.

We have had ten years without a single education strike in our province under the Liberal government. We have built a great education system together. The stakes are far too high now for the Ministry to gamble on anything but preserving our previous excellent, co-operative and consultative working relationship.

We can only hope from the very bottom of our hearts that against all odds we can still somehow work out a solution. Madam Education Minister, please listen and consider very carefully everything OECTA still has to say at the table.

Our aim in year's past, as now, has always been true. Is yours still too? I for one don't see how it could end up being any other way! 

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