Opening Statement



Monday, 3 March 2014

Guest Blog: OECTA AGM: A Time For Sovereignty!



March break approaches and with it a much appreciated-rest, and the OECTA AGM. My opinion about OECTA and the AGM has changed profoundly over the past two years. Last year’s delegates had all the excitement and all the hope of bringing about regime change. This year we go to the AGM conscious that changing nameplates at the executive does not necessarily change the Association. OECTA has become a 1% and 99% organization: for the elites these are the best of times; for the fee-paying members these are not the best of times. 

OECTA has changed, or perhaps I should say the OECTA elites have changed. A powerful, highly paid, permanent staff runs the Association, resulting in relentless concentration of power at the centre at the expense of the periphery, degrading local bargaining into irrelevance, abolishing all the distinctively local clauses (gratuity, family illness, death benefit, extended health care and so on), corrupting “Service to the Members” with the disdain and contempt that inevitably flows from the gross salary disparity between the many members and the few employees.  

For me, the MoU exposed OECTA’s internal rot, a quasi-feudal segregation of our Association into elite rulers and member serfs. The elites imposed their contract on their school teachers without even pretending to consult us, and without respecting our right to ratify our contract. Any 21st Century union that deliberately denies its members the right to ratify their contract holds those members in supreme contempt, and I believe that OECTA has the distinction of being the only Ontario union in the past twenty-five years to have deliberately denied 40 000 members the right to ratify their contract. Horrified, six colleagues and I voiced our objections to the absence of a vote by taking OECTA to the Ontario Labour Relations Board. 

In a struggle putting David and Goliath to shame, we faced off against OECTA’s powerful lawyers at the OLRB, those legendary defenders of workers’ rights and champions of classroom teachers. The OECTA lawyers gave a dazzling display, persuading (perhaps intimidating?) the adjudicator that a binding agreement with the Government is not an agreement with the employer; hence, OECTA had no obligation to seek a ratification vote. I still wonder how any labour lawyer would argue against the right of workers to ratify their contract. Now when legal opinions are bandied about, I argue for a second opinion—if it is wise to seek a second medical opinion, why not a second legal opinion?

MoU defenders suggested that the OECTA negotiators signed the MoU to protect units that faced especially hostile contract-stripping boards, and everybody had to accept sacrifices and take one for the team. However, there is an Animal Farm aspect to taking one for the team in OECTA with some of us taking one for the team more than others. The same OECTA staff who  negotiated our cut in salary, the surrender of our banked sick days and other concessions, negotiated for themselves an increase to their salaries (now more than $170K + benefits to match) and they retained their bankable sick days: Apparently, solidarity and taking one for the team is a members’ only privilege.

As if the provocation of the MoU were not sufficient, OECTA staff followed up with the trial and dismissal of the MoU’s single most outspoken critic, staging a trial sorely lacking in procedural fairness and elementary justice. One intractable irregularity in the Brock dismissal is that OECTA’s Discipline Board was never properly constituted; hence, the Board never had the authority to try Richard Brock nor any other member of OECTA. Confronted with the illegality of the trial, staff obtained legal opinion that allegedly says (it was never formally released to members) that the executive’s decision to accept a report and a recommendation from the Discipline Board effectively constituted that Board, even if the report and the recommendation submitted to the executive were out of order. On the strength of this legal opinion the present executive publicly declared they could not alter the decision of the Discipline Board.

The idea that staff could legally usurp the executive’s authority specified in the by-laws led to a widespread demand for a second opinion. I wrote to the executive requesting a response to questions I had about the Brock dismissal. I labelled the letter nonconfidential in the hope this would speed up their reply. My letter did not elicit even an acknowledgement, much less a reply: I remember fondly when membership had its privileges.


Bludgeoned and prodded from various quarters, the executive and staff finally relented and sought a second legal opinion. They agreed to roll the dice but stacked the table by selecting a firm that does much business with OECTA (OECTA spends $millions on legal fees and our contracts are most lucrative for the fortunate few), and by arranging for staff and not the executive to brief the lawyer. The executive and staff have received that second opinion but refuse to release it from which we must adduce that the second opinion confirmed that the Discipline Board had no authority because it was not constituted in accordance with our by-laws.  



Staff has created a mess in their rush to silence MoU critics. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has been troubled by the procedural problems and informed President Ryan of their misgivings on January 21, 2014. I quote one sentence from that letter:

Moreover, in light of the procedural fairness concerns that have been raised, this case should be examined and re-considered. Sanctions that suspend a member’s privileges and/or remove them from an elected position should only be imposed when fair procedures are rigorously followed. [ LINK ]

Have the lights gone out in OECTA? Our Association has always sided with the forces of enlightenment. Are we now to forsake our noble tradition simply because the burden has fallen on us, rather than some third party, to be enlightened, to conduct ourselves and our internal affairs by enlightened standards? Enlightened standards in this case mean “fair procedures are rigorously followed.”

The executive has a duty to uphold the by-laws of the Association and to rectify any violation of those by-laws. Upholding the by-laws is a contract they have with people like me—mere members. I believe it is time for the executive to do its duty:

    The executive must issue a statement about the recent heavy handed purges that have taken place at the Halton Elementary Unit. Specifically, the executive must reassure the membership that they instructed staff to take these deeply troubling measures and that staff were simply following orders when the Halton Elementary Unit voted the wishes of staff and withdrew resolution #132 at a hastily convened and thinly attended general meeting a week before the AGM. 
    The executive must instruct OECTA staff to stop their zealous enforcement of the decisions of the illegally constituted Discipline Board.  
    The executive must no longer uphold the decision of this discredited Discipline Board and publicly address the concerns of members and the CCLA by bringing a remedial resolution to the floor of the AGM: Let the sovereign AGM put right what the executive and staff will not.
    The Executive must seek from OECTA staff a recommitment to the high ideals expected of employees of a Professional Catholic Teachers Association, a commitment to always obey and follow the by-laws and procedures of our Association, emphasizing that it is not the role of members to serve staff; rather, it is for staff to serve the members.

If our executive and staff fail to bring about these remedies, they will not only forfeit their credibility but they will also leave themselves open to the accusation that ill-will motivated both the by-law violations and the unwillingness to find a remedy. 



As I said initially, my opinion of OECTA has changed drastically over the last two years: I yearn for the more wholesome and idealistic union of times past, an OECTA led by courageous men and women dedicated to “Service to the Members” and I just hope somebody will soon do something to save our Association. I am bringing my one vote to the AGM. If any delegate would like to join me in working for a law-abiding, democratic Association that respects due process, adheres to the highest ethical standards and abjures all heavy-handed and bullying behaviour, let’s join forces and maybe this time around we can change more than nameplates. And if the elites try to browbeat, intimidate or bully the AGM with more legal opinions, besides responding with LOL, we can honour the courage displayed in Kiev with the defiance of Patrick Henry’s immortal words: Give me Liberty or give me Death.

John Cafferky, BPJPII CSS

Scarborough,
Toronto Secondary Unit.

cafferj@tcdsb.org

Previous related blogs by Mr. Cafferky:

December 2013: His "Open Letter" questions about the Discipline Panel to the OECTA Provincial Executive for which he still hasn't received any acknowledgement nor reply @ Link

September 2013: " No Justice": His examination of OECTA political elites and their role in the internal decision making process @ Link

March 2013: Prior to OECTA AGM 2013, he contributed "Quo Vadis/ Where are we heading?" @ Link

December 2012: "None Dare Call It Betrayal 2": His 2nd exchange of letters with then OECTA President Mr. O'Dwyer regarding the OECTA MOU @ Link

October 2012: "None Dare Call It Betrayal 1" His 1st letter in the exchange @ Link

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

God Bless You John! And other OECTA members like you!

Anonymous said...

I think it's time for OECTA members to join ETFO and OSSTF. This divide and conquer hasn't worked well for teachers. And it will continue to not work well in the future unless things change.

Anonymous said...

Thank you John! I am with you!!! Let's stop the lies and the workplace bullies!
E. Vallvé
Halton Elementary Executive

Anonymous said...

I'm with you all the way- John!!!! See you at the AGM!!!! I just love defenders of justice!!!

David Chiarelli said...

Last time: Would be Commentators not posted here are directed to my Comments on Tuesday March 3 under the Democracy in OECTA blog. Thanks but no thanks for reasons all ready given. Enough said!

Anonymous said...

Prevent the Discipline Board Process Motions from various OECTA local units from hitting the AGM floor for discussion and voting at this AGM and the AGM ceases to rule the union.

Prevent members from voting on the MOU and members cease to rule the union.

What's next for OECTA?

Anonymous said...

Stop the Oligarchs and rule the AGM as member delegates are supposed to do. Do not let them select, edit or subvert our agenda!!!

Anonymous said...

My read on this is that there is a growing cancer in our union and that it should be dealt with here and now by the AGM - not postponed for further study. (I have a binder full of info from David's blogs- Lawman, Ask Angelo etc) The issue of discipline process procedural flaws has been done to death already. Some great resolutions and action directives to remedy this escalating issue have been put forward by units all over this province. We have waited 8 months for this AGM to start resolving the os issues! Let the delegates decide what is right without any interference (from the authors of our misfortunes) as they are the supreme authority of our organization and our AGM!!!! Take back our union!

Anonymous said...

There are no Oligarchs just delegates (perhaps a few of them are ideologues). Any motion to "subvert our agenda" must receive a 2/3rd's vote to change the agenda. "Edits" more formally called amendments require a majority vote. The AGM is a democratic body and will do what is right. It always has.

Anonymous said...

I recommend some interesting reading for Metro readers - the winter issue of Metro Catholic Teachers' LTD Plan Board of Trustees.Apparently provincial OECTA has decided unilaterally to take over all unit LTD plans exchanging them for an inferior plan run by OECTA provincial run at higher costs to the members. OECTA Provincial apparently can't stop working "for" the members! When are we going to get some sand and end their dictatorial powers? The province did not even try to interfere with teacher LTD plans in the MOU! Who is getting paid off for this interference in local unit rights? Corruption appears to be the rule rather than the exception in this "union".

Anonymous said...

This AGM needs to vote on all the Discipline Panel related motions NOW. There is no reason whatsoever to delay this vote until the 2015 AGM. AGM delegates exercise your votes now! Lead and rule the union. PLEASE!

Mschievious said...

That manipulation of the LTD plan is just the tip of the iceberg. Does noone else find it odd that OECTA insisted on including Manulife, under OTIP, as a 3rd party adjudication process for the Short Term Disability Plan originally? The language in the disclaimer that legitimately ill members had to sign in order to just be considered for the 90% pay entitled Manulife to share the member's private medical info with basically anyone they chose to. OECTA clearly had no interest in protecting the privacy or dignity of its most vulnerable members. They are very interested however in using our money to protect bullies and pedophiles. And now they are using our money to protect themselves for ex-communicating Richard Brock, for doing what he was democratically elected to do-protect his members. Unless the General Secretary and his cohorts are held accountable for their arrogance and apathy toward the membership nothing is going to change. While the rest of us were busy doing our jobs and naively expecting them to be doing theirs, they were carefully colluding to use our dues to form a self preserving dictatorship.If there was ever a time to challenge the Rand Formula it would be now!

Anonymous said...

Any AGM updates? Discipline motions discussed or deferred?

Anonymous said...

Discipline motion were referred to a db committee that is supposed to report to the next AGM in 2015! They did not bother to suspend the operation of the discipline board until the process is revised! We still have not seen the list of newly selected discipline board members or even the posting for applications to this position.....

Anonymous said...

It was the Marshall show. I want to gag

Anonymous said...

All Discipline motions were referred to a new task force which will review the discipline process. The referral and task force reflected a compromise of units that favour the current process and those that would like it changed.

Kate Tagseth said...

For me, this was one of the most bland AGMs ever. Very little actual debate, lots of love in (Wynne and Sandals were a gag fest), and none of the usual excitement that previous AGMs guaranteed. I suspect the absence of so many eloquent speakers at the mic (many are now in the secretariat, retired, have suspended privileges, or are just plain intimidated) that always ensured fun, interesting ideas, and even some controversy was part of the difference.

There are definite disagreements over whether the OECTA MOU was a good or bad thing, from my perspective all bad, and the position that all the federations seem to be taking on Bill 122, with a few recommended amendments, continues to amaze me. The OECTA of yore would never have supported such egregious changes, a two tiered system, and the flagrant exclusion of rank and file members in the discussion of their rights and working conditions etc. What Bill 122 does, is centralize power in the hands of the staffers; agreements would be rubber stamped by an increasingly impotent executive (much like the trustees at the board level who are now puppets to the administrators); and put into law the egregiously flawed system that threw the entire 2012-2014 bargaining cycle into utter chaos.

That the staffers were able to get a raise and hold on to their sick leave while agreeing, on our behalf, to anti union style cuts is a betrayal beyond anything I've ever seen before. There was a time when they'd donate the same percentage of their pay that we lost when we protested. One of these staffers attempted to convince me that having 130 sick days every year at a reduced salary was better than the 270 days I've had at 100% of salary for the last 10. So much for paying your own freight. I still can't believe it. . .

There are definite problems, and while some would argue that OSSTF is driving members into the arms of Hudak, one could make a pretty compelling case that OECTA was doing the same. When your union seems to have sold you out to the government that cut your pay, the pay you yourself helped negotiate over nearly three decades of service and unpaid time to do these things, it burns. Then we had to be polite for the love in between Wynne and Sandals as they attempted to woo back the teachers they skewered (they finally realized they need us). In any case, the AGM was definitely subdued. . .

I for one am not in favour of this provincial bargaining model: since it's full out implementation in 2008, members have steadily lost ground in their collective agreements. We got the 12% raise, of which much was clawed back either through unpaid days, loss of sick leave, encouragement to take VLAP days (what union does that?); redundant committees (staffing and PD, which were adequately discussed at LMC, trying to get a few meetings of the latter was problematic enough); and very little movement on benefits. Mostly the MOU made life easier for the staffers. At one point, when some members were urged to vote against the tentative agreement of 2008, the message was that if that happened it would be very difficult for the staffer assigned to the unit as that person had no "dates" left. Were teachers expected to ratify their four year contract to make life easier for a staffer whose job it was to serve members? It goes on and on.

And here we are today, with our union divided over so many matters. The unions seem to have become the bodies that Harris railed against in 1996. Where is the outrage of the membership now? Why aren't there organized protests? It seems the union would be in a conflict of interest by encouraging such, given they are at least part of the problem, or so it seems at this point. . .

In any case, John, thank you for your post and the information you regularly provide. To everyone, in solidarity. . .

David Chiarelli said...

Thanks for the OECTA AGM update! Last year was my last. Quite frankly this year sounds the same. There was very little discussion or debate, lots of rubber stamping and provincial grandstanding. This is not the OECTA I fought to build and protect. Personally I'm very glad I am no longer there. It saddens me greatly, and I think you've pretty much charted the road ahead. At any rate that will be a matter for the new generation of teachers to deal with and correct, or perhaps even not correct, at their own peril.

Solidarity!

David C

PS: Thank God we have got a great pension, and yes! There is life after OECTA indeed!

Anonymous said...

All discipline resolutions are now referred to a new task force that will report back to AGM 2015. This postponement of the correction of a flawed process was moved by the current president of York, who will become the 2nd Vice President on our Provincial Executive. The PE first worked to claim they have no authority to fix the discipline process, now they work to postpone any fixes.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kate for the accurate analysis. Life after OECTA? Is that possible? LOL.

Anonymous said...

Marshall Jarvis is the best reason the conservatives have ever had to get rid of the Rand Formula. He is the best "MAKE THE UNION LOOK BAD WHILE I PURSUE MY OWN AGENDA" person I ever known. We should all thank Marshall for bringing us all closer to the end of OECTA.

Anonymous said...

Its time for OECTA to move on from the turmoil of the MOU era and get ready for future battles. It sounds like OECTA is ready to do that.

Anonymous said...

Kate your opinion is great. Given the current condition of OECTA why do you bother to go to the AGM anymore?

Anonymous said...

Time for OECTA to move on from the turmoil of the MOU? Move on without apologizing to members for denying them their absolute right to vote on the MOU. Move on by silencing any opposition to the MOU. Move on without acknowledging any role OECTA played in the MOU. That should work out well.

Anonymous said...

Move on? The delegates at the AGM were hoodwinked into delaying all debate on the discipline resolutions. We now have the author of this delaying tactic as the new Provincial 2nd Vice-President! How can we move on if justice is never allowed to be done?

Anonymous said...

Nobody was hoodwinked on anything. The delegates agreed (almost all 700 of them) to move forward by reviewing the discipline process. As far as the MOU moving on issue, last year an entirely new system of provincial bargaining was adopted with every OECTA member getting a vote. Sometimes one has to realize when they have won and move on.

Anonymous said...

OECTA needs a membership wide referendum as to the appropriateness of delaying/gagging all those AGM discipline Board/Panel related motions. But then a membership wide vote is not possible right now in OECTA and probably never will be. Pay the bills but no input into the decisions.

Keep moving forward?

Why should OECTA staffers be allowed to keep their sick day banks when OECTA members who pay the OECTA staffers paycheques not get their sick day banks back? Answer that one question someone. Everyone equal in this union? Or not?

Keep moving forward?

Ms. Chievous said...

Keep their sick banks? What about the sweet deal of continuing to receive their benefits for life that they have all quietly and carefully maneuvered for themselves? Talk about self-serving!

Kate Tagseth said...

In response to a question posed to me, I went to the AGMs every year for about 10 years, while serving as a release officer and president. After that time (2008), I've been twice: first to make sure I'm still current with my information (I was!), and this year, to see if there was any indication "my" OECTA was returning. It was disappointing to say the least. I guess I go because I want to believe our union will fix the current situation, and the belief that strong labour advocates are needed? In theory, yes; in reality, where are they?

At a time when we have this division, while it is difficult, we need people with a strong sense of the role unions have in a just society. We will especially need those who can speak with conviction on the continuing need for unions, while all the forces seem to suggest they have served their purpose and are now redundant. We need people who will be willing to take the bloody noses for the greater good. We also need people to focus on the issues, and not on the people themselves. We're all flawed. But if we keep our eye on the prize (a strong, united union presence), and let that guide our decisions, we'll get through this. I would like to retire with my old OECTA as my union. As it stands, I'm thinking we're already experiencing the effects of the R2WFL agenda, without the benefit of opting out of paying dues. . . That should be a wake up call none of us can ignore. . . 

Having said that, we have elected a Personnel Committee to negotiate the collective agreement of the staff at 65 St. Clair. I wonder why they were agreeable to the terms and conditions of the staff when they knew what was happening to the very members who paid those salaries? Like everything, saying "no" gets easier with practice. We made such a fuss when the OCT raised our dues $12, but absolutely NOTHING was said about the raise in pay to the staff. Further, that didn't come up when certain delegates vigorously defended the increase in dues ($1000) resolution. I wasn't aware of that fact until after the AGM. It makes you wonder what else we don't know about that we should. Transparency and openness anyone?

I urge everyone to get the younger members involved in their union. They need to know what it CAN do, what it HAS done, and what we EXPECT it will do in the future. If you're old enough to have a job, you're old enough to fight for it. Everyone has something at stake here, and it's up to each of us, to do what we have to, to get the information, ask the hard questions, and do our own thinking. Even if it hurts. Think of the veterans when you need support. I can't imagine what they must think of what is being allowed to happen to the democracy they fought to provide for us. . . Maybe the next round of bargaining will address the concerns that have been presented loud and clear. If not, when you DO get the chance to vote, just vote "NO", and start over. . . 

While I know I’m preaching to the choir, that's my thought for today, and why I keep trying. . . it isn’t easy to watch the erosion of your sweat and toil. . .

David Chiarelli said...

Thanks for putting that so elegantly Kate. It's a message that needs to be heard. Maybe you could write a guest blog for us in the near future?

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