Opening Statement



Sunday, 16 June 2013

OSSTF'ing Up Negotiations: A New Political Paradigm!

OSSTF Teacher + REWT member Rob Scott submits a second guest blog. It's about the post MOU OSSTF situation, one that I am sure many of us, regardless of our teacher union affiliation, can identify with. Here's Rob's latest contribution for your consideration:

OSSTF’ing Up Negotiations in a New Political Paradigm


 The struggle continues ...
Shortly after the OSSTF’s most recent contract ratification announcement, I had a conversation with one of the federation’s negotiators. I was bemoaning the state of the contract while said negotiator was explaining that this deal will work for us because this contract establishes a better starting point (over Bill 115’s imposed contract) for the next round of negotiations in 2014.  I was troubled by this statement. I seem to recall our starting point for negotiations being significantly awesome prior to this contract and we managed to lose a tonne. And I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why the federation thinks the government will negotiate in good faith next time.

For Starters....An Assumption
In its most recent foray into contract negotiating, the OSSTF, completely and unequivocally lost. I know (a few) people will disagree, but If, over a year ago, you had told the teachers of Ontario that they would settle for a contract that would:

eliminate gratuities and bankable sick days;
delay grid steps; 
freeze salaries for who knows how long;
see the implementation of unpaid days off;
introduce mandatory Long Term Disability Insurance
and that we would ratify such a deal with a previously unheard of provincial cyber- vote (abandoning the long-stated significance of local bargaining) I think the aforementioned teachers of Ontario would have contorted their faces uncomfortably and replied with “absurd”. And then, upon telling them that they would never strike and they would abandon their collective action against extra-curriculars a full month before a such a “deal” was reached, which coincidentally was around the time the president of their union would be seen on the evening news warmly embracing the minister of education, they would have fallen to the ground in a shock of clinically worrisome proportions. I think one mere year ago, this would have been beyond the worst case scenario.
This doesn’t even consider the fact that our new deal has pushed the Hudakians so far right that they are talking about setting the labour movement back to pre-industrialization or that the pension has abandoned guaranteed Cost Of Living Adjustments.


Don't give up the fight!

The Argentines, who can still recall the Falkland Islands, now scoff with disdain and shake their collective heads at the High School teachers of Ontario because we were routed. Now I am not really one for war metaphors, because war is way more tragic than just about anything to which it could be compared. However, the OSSTF, in its hubris, will point to a couple of casualties on the other side of no man’s land. Bragging about taking down the Premier and Education Minister rings hollow.

Here’s the Problem
(In Verse)
We were the cattle, the negotiating table was our slaughter house.
We were the Soviets, this was our moon-race.
We were the donut, they were Homer Simpson.
We were the Euro, they were Greece.
(In Prose)
It wasn’t a fair fight. The negotiators had zero chance of success, and by definition a fair fight involves some likelihood for success. It simply wasn’t a fair fight, but it could have, and should have, been. Governments, including ours, have figured out how to tame the “school yard bully” of labour unions and that’s simply by changing the rules; opting to use legislation and public relations instead of negotiations. And while I agree with many who suggest a complete work stoppage or a continued long term ban on extra- curriculars would have likely made a difference, that’s a different conversation. The landscape has changed dramatically over the past few decades.

The Government of Ontario no longer cares about negotiating and they frankly aren’t all that interested in occupying the moral high ground of doing what’s best for education or for its work force. Depending on the direction of the political wind, they either seek to buy teachers’ votes by playing nice or they seek to win the rest of the electorate by vilifying teachers and unions in general. Every round of negotiations for at least the past 25 years falls into one of these two categories. Heck, D. Mac even chose to go with four year contracts in the education sector, making negotiations work for the election cycle (am I the only one who thinks the Liberals wanted a two year deal in this round so they could decide whether to buy us or vilify us before the next election - assuming they had won that much drooled over minority by taking Conservative Kit-Wat’s by-election?).

 
 So What’s a Little Union To Do About It? 

We need to play the game differently. This battle needs to be fought on three fronts, currently we only fight on two. While I think picket signs and protest lines are valuable, I do not think that they alone will take us to the Promised Land. And the backroom politicking helps, but $30 000 worth of donations bought us exactly one week of mat-leave and some solid-like-quicksand promises about maybe thinking before the Ministry of Education completely revamps the salary grid. We have to starting fighting on the third front, the much feared public relations front. Yes I said it. We need to take the fight to the politicians on their turf because they are not going to pull a Marty McFly and come back to the seventies. So we had better hit the fast forward button on the eight-track machine and meet them on their playground.

One of my frustrations over the years has been when I hear teachers and/or union leaders say that we as a collective cannot beat the government’s PR/Media machine. That is completely baffling to me, the government is not very good at managing the message (cite your favourite of many examples over the past 18 months). A cadre of 10 to 15 political Dr. Frankensteins sitting around Mowat Block cannot possibly overwhelm an army of historians, scientists, literature majors, artists, mathematicians, athletes, computer experts, et al. And we have to own that and walk, nay, we have to strut into negotiations like we know it.

 
Some Priorities (to be developed in a future article)

The idea of an intellectual army comprised of teachers brings me to my first point; the federation must do a better job of engaging its membership and mine the expertise and insight of the classroom teacher. An organization will never exceed the limitations of its ideas, so we need to consider as many ideas as possible in our efforts to reach the voting public (who ultimately will dictate the approach the politicians take with us). 
Repair the OSSTF’s credibility crisis.

The fact that the voting public respects politicians’ statements about education more than the opinions of educators is a problem of immeasurable significance. And the government knows this. Collectively, teachers are seen as a group of slacker summer-loving self-interested pseudo professionals. Individually, teachers are heroes. This inconsistency needs to be fixed. We need to be seen as defenders of students and of education. No government of any political stripe in Finland would ever dare trade in bashing teachers, we need to learn from the teachers who have won the respect of their nations (especially in light of Ontario being the highest achieving educational jurisdiction in the English speaking world).

Focus on the issues that matter.

The government gave the public a simple narrative about entitled teachers living the privileged life and taking the summer off. The OSSTF gave the public an obscure narrative about freedom of assembly and labour law. We should have been focusing on the government’s move to an American style education system and its attack on the middle class. (Is there a more middle class profession than teaching?) And despite the naysayers we can win the public relations battle. We have to win. The stakes are too high, and education matters too much.

Rob Scott

June 12, 2013

[Ed 1: Read Rob's earlier guest blog on the OSSTF MOU, "A Yes Vote is Complete Surrender!" @ Vote No! ]

[Ed 2: Would you like to write a guest blog? Contact me via my gmail address at the top right of this site!]

YOUR COMMENTS:

4 comments:

David Chiarelli said...

Gotta love this! It reminds me of a recent conversation I had with fellow OECTA member Ian V. from PJ2. We were discussing the use of Social Media to manufacture consent for much the same union reasons + purposes described in Rob's article. The big tradition means of communication, newspapers, t.v. can now be circumvented. It's a great idea I'd like to develop in a future blog. Well done Rob!

Anonymous said...

The most telling comment is that OSSTF gave in too early.....it seems as if they usually wait to be given something (not quite sure what that was this time). OECTA and others now seem to be following that path. The only union to hold out was ETFO (and that "success" will only be measured in the next few years). IF and only IF all of the education workers stick together will there be any chance of success or survival in future negotiations. Once weakness is seen it is over. IF we had all stood together from the start and walked out in a general strike I do not think we would be where we are today. I think it is time to de-politicize and time to re-unionize. It is time to stand up to the bully and time to take a stand for the education workers of the province. This was my feeling last July when OECTA caved and it was my feeling as the others have caved throughout the year. It is still my feeling today. Maybe it is too late for the old farts like me, but the younger teachers need to start standing up for their rights or they are going to have very long and stressful careers.

Anonymous said...

I think it boils down to the fact that in our profession young teachers are just happy to have a job, any job, any pay. I make no apologies for gaining what we gained in my 28 years of teacher. I am deeply disheartened by what has been lost, I mean given away by our unions. Don't tell us for a year that we will fight this, wear your t-shirt and support your union when what we lost was always there in Bill 115. We got sold down the river again. Respect, a guarantee, and a promise to do better are the three things we got. That does not bring back what was stolen from us and our unions talked a great game but stopped the walk. Bring on Hudak. Let him get rid of unions so that I can keep my dues in the last two years of my career. Money spent on t-shirts and wasted on salaries is pathetic. The use of the word respect is wrong. Sam Hammond's use of that word disrespects me further. So disappointing. Vote no ETFO and see the fallout. I'd love it but our young teachers are just happy to have a job and will vote it through.

Anonymous said...

I'm voting "no". Just can't accept what as been DONE to us all.

No. No. No.

Snick

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