Opening Statement



Thursday, 10 April 2014

Democracy in Our Unions: Electronic Voting?



 Your reader comments recently raised the topic of electronic voting within our local and provincial teacher union affiliates. Is it widespread? Can it increase the level of democracy, accountability and member participation within our teacher unions?

Lets consider these issues at both the local and the provincial union level.

Firstly, on April 1st I was asked: 
David: Do you think with unit elections coming up in May that every unit should have a ballot box for voting at every school site in the unit to ensure maximum voter turnout?
To which I replied:
I favour online or telephone voting, set up and run by a neutral 3rd party company. There are a few that do this for unions all ready. 
I have previously addressed the issue on a 2011 blog, before I retired, while I was still on executive at OECTA TSU. I would like to draw your attention to this blog again. I do so without prejudice. This is an independent teacher free speech blogsite as is clearly stated in the letterbox introduction at the top of my site. The opinions expressed are strictly my own. So then, here is what I wrote Yea or Nay? and @ Approved!

Let me further summarize my point of view, based upon my own experience, about the advantages of electronic voting at the local unit level. Before introducing electronic voting, our unit had previously voted by ballot at the yearly unit Annual General Meeting, and then in school ballot boxes for our yearly executive elections during my tenure. I was very critical of the latter at the time. Indeed, you can read what I wrotePig in a Poke!



It is my opinion that after we approved and set up telephone voting, we had a very honest and accurate unit executive election. In short, paper ballots at the Unit AGM proper had frequently been suspect to tampering with, as were ballot boxes at the schools. I never trusted the counts. There were frequent complaints from all sides. Human nature being what it is there were just too many inevitable opportunities for unaccountable voting irregularities. Lots of gray areas existed, for example with voter verification, the lack of proper complete and up to date lists of full time and OT members, ballot box supervision and procedures, vote counting and so on.  

During my final years on executive, we instituted telephone voting. The executive chose a reputable, experienced third party company that specialized in union electronic voting. We also decided that 2 identification numbers be required to vote. A voting verification number was sent to each member at home, along with instructions on how they could vote by telephone throughout the election day. Also a helpline was available in case there were any problems or difficulties.

I did not want to see the letters posted in the staff mail boxes at school where, let's face it, stacks of them might end up in the garbage for anybody to collect and use. I also favoured the increased security of requiring members to also additionally use their employee number to vote. I believed that it would be less likely anybody would want to give away their ballot to anybody else to use by proxy or as they might see otherwise see fit. 

Election turnout was not significantly greater than in years past during the first year, but I believe the numbers seemed a lot more credible than the peculiar seemingly off kilter tallies we had often seen in years past. I also believed that once more members became familiar with the new process it would increasingly catch on given time. The following year online voting was added to increase ready access and make the system easier for many to use.



Had I not retired and continued on executive I would also have been in favour of electronic referendums on important union issues. I was also involved in the use of online surveys for general information gathering on issues affecting my committee work, most notably in Special Ed during my final term. I still am of the mind that both are excellent doable ideas.

This year OECTA Provincial introduced electronic voting at the spring AGM for the first time. Perhaps an active participant might wish to comment on the experience. From at a distance I would think it is also an excellent idea. It could allow delegates to vote in good conscience free of pressure based upon the relative merits of the motions being discussed rather than feeling pressured to vote in block. However, I don't think the vote should just be limited to the members at the AGM. The provincial executive elections, contract ratifications and important referendum issue votes should also be carried out electronically. These should involve the whole membership, with one member one vote. It would've been very interesting to have had a membership wide referendum on "local verses provincial bargaining" voted on this way.

Using websites, blogsites, Facebook pages, discussion boards, emails, Twitter and the many many other forms of social media readily at our disposal, it is very possible nowadays to have widespread and indepth discussion on the pros and cons of just about any issue of concern to and involving the whole union membership. Unfortunately, our union leaders seem very hesitant to facilitate this process themselves, let alone even electronically share much of the information necessary to make an independent completely informed decision as a dues paying union member. Also as the frequent opposition to this teacher free speech site open forum discussions suggests, not everybody likes teachers to be able to openly discuss issues at the grassroots levels where what's said cannot be tightly scripted, controlled or directed by a third party overseer at the political executive and office secretariat level. 

As I have often argued, free speech has a way of correcting its own excesses even though when we risk that an inaccurate or unfair statement might sometimes be made. We are well educated, thinking, due paying teacher union members. A fair judicious discussion balance is ultimately achieved through free expression with minimal site administrator moderation being exercised. You can decide to agree or disagree with the merits of an argument as you see fit after considering all the many different points of view. So what then are so many of our leaders afraid of? I leave that up to you to decide. 




The tide is definitely turning, however slowly, and to use another analogy, the genie cannot be forced back into the bottle. The new wave of electronic media is sweeping over us and the old ways of doing business. Indeed, as another reader commented: 
How does OECTA stack up on voting compared to other feds?
BCTF - pencil and paper at an AGM
ATA - all member electronic vote 
STF - pencil and paper at an AGM
MTS - all member electronic vote
OTF - rotation assigned by affiliate (no vote)
OSSTF - pencil and paper vote at AGM
ETFO - pencil and paper vote at AGM
OECTA - electronic vote at AGM
AEFO - pencil and paper vote at AGM
QPAT - pencil and paper vote at AGM
NBTA - pencil and paper vote at AGM
PEITF - pencil and paper vote at AGM
AEFNB - pencil and paper vote at AGM
CSQ - pencil and paper vote at AGM
NSTU - all member electronic vote
NLTA - all member electronic vote
In terms of locals, even within OECTA there are a wide variety of practices which include:
-pencil and paper at unit AGM
-all member electronic vote (TSU)
-all member pencil and paper vote with ballot boxes in schools.
In terms of voting on motions at the AGM, NSTU uses electronic voting on all motions. OECTA uses electronic voting for recorded votes, division, tally votes, and secret ballots. All other votes are done by a show of voting cards. All other federation vote by a show of cards.
My assessment - the most democratic organizations are ATA, NSTU, MTS, and NLTA. OECTA is more democratic than most associations (following the changes that were made at AGM 2013 and AGM 2014) but could go further
So then dear readers, what do you think? Should our teacher unions hold all member on line votes for executive elections, our contracts and even referendums of importance to the membership? What would the advantages and disadvantages of each be as you see it? 



Other Related ReadingGuest Blog: An OECTA Bill of Member Rights?Here!

COMMENTS?

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

David,
Off topic for this part of your blog but I was curious about your perspective on two points:
1 - The passing of Bill 122.
2 - The recent court decision that parents can "opt" their children out of Religious Studies and observations.

Thanks,

Adam

David Chiarelli said...

Ah the joys of free speech! :-) Either way I answer the 2nd part I will probably royally p.o half my readers .... This is my own point of view:

From what I have seen of the Catholic boards, and since July 5 2012 our provincial Catholic teachers union, I do not believe that the Catholic schools have any claim to the moral high ground. These are public funded schools. If the parents don't want their children to participate in Religious Studies, or observe the religious rites, then so be it.

That said I do know that at our better schools, from my own secondary level experience, we often had non Catholic students of other faiths readily participate and enrich our religious studies and celebrations at our better schools. Perhaps some/ many still will? If not who are we to say?

Now, the passing of Bill 122? This will require much more than a comment but for now let me just say the following. The provincial Liberal government along with the NDP passed the Bill into law, for all due purposes ending local bargaining in favour of province wide bargaining. Our unions did not ask us about the change, as due paying members, though many of our handbooks and constitutions have long stated our support for local bargaining, not the latter.

They then made half assed submissions in which they basically rolled over and played dead. A pox on all of the above for this one. The future isn't what it used to be. Our newer teachers will ultimately be the ones to pay the price. The fights to follow, theirs to fight or lose. Remember: nobody did anything. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

This blog is you at your best David.

Given all the bylaw changes at Halton Elementary Unit lately, perhaps it is time for members of all OECTA units, including HEU, to embrace technology and empower unit members by implementing electronic voting by all members as soon as possible, obviously following the AGM's lead this year.

Anonymous said...

On Bill 122, there was one submission to the Legislative Committee, from former ETFO President David Clegg (now a local president) that did not support the mad rush to provincial bargaining...it is part of the Hansard record and certainly spoke to the perils of provincial bargaining and offered the history of provincial bargaining in BC as a stark warning.

Anonymous said...

ETFO members did nothing but vote 91% in favour of the contract. Yesterday we received a video power point that gave us a glimpse of what is to come. One picture shows a woman with her hands over her ears while a man is yelling at her over a megaphone. That picture alone sums up what happened last year- OECTA, OSSTF, and ETFO had their ears plugged while Bill 115 screamed at them- fight this. Our unions chose not to fight. Now , The best we get is a power point presentation, maybe another t-shirt (last year's was used to wash my van). What a joke our union has become.

Ms. Chievous said...

I know that I am repeating myself but when the Catholic System disappears along with OECTA-shortly it seems as that Ontario Superior Court Ruling is the beginning of the end now that Religion classes are effectively electives like in the public Board- we should not just blindly join OSSTF. Instead we should demand the 40 million dollars of our money, that MJ uses to cover his ass after moving his own agendas forward, and hire a group of lawyers and teachers (non union leaders) to protect what's left of our professional integrity. We need a professional organization.

Anonymous said...

The OECTA Bill of Members' Rights needs to be adopted for transparency and accountability. Why not?

Anonymous said...

The ETFO electronic all member vote should not be seen as endorsement of democracy in action. It was revealed at the ETFO provincial Annual Meeting that only 27,000 of the eligible 76,000 members voted. It was a vote simply to alleviate the ETFO executive of political responsibility of giving up the fight and simply vindicated the actions of Liberal Government.

Anonymous said...

You can't force people to vote. But electronic collection of data presents a more user friendly method of vote collection and less open to ballot box irregularities. Right?

David Chiarelli said...

Yes! One doubts that electronic voting is being widely used and on a regular basis with much indepth open information sharing even where and when it exists in our unions!

I'd think the prospects of the plebs rising poses a pretty big threat to the status quo for the leadership and various elites. They are often well aware of this, while most rank and file are passive, apathetic and indifferent, just the way they'd like them to be.

Meanwhile much of the information that would allow the average member to have a meaningful debate and make informed choices is being tightly controlled and scripted such that teacher free speech is often an oxymoron.

Oh brave new world .... or are we looking at a new "1984"?
Rather vague I suppose but think about it a bit. Like I said, the future isn't what it used to be ....

David Chiarelli said...

The November 2013 "OECTA Bill of Member Rights" guest blog is by far and wide the most read posting here, in Ontario, Canada, the US and UK. However there is very little commentary or discussion about it on my site. In a general sense, I suspect it reflects the widespread feelings of disenfranchisement felt in many of our teacher + other unions.

A follow up by the original authors or anybody else who'd care to further develop the idea of a bill or a statement of guiding principles might well be in order.

Let me know if interested. Remember, guest blogs can be submitted at davechiarelli@gmail.com

David Chiarelli said...

Electronic collection of data depends upon who is researching what. IMHO ballot boxes in the schools are a corrupt joke. See my link above.

Odd thing is folks vote over and over again for something stupid like the Idol or The Voice shows but voting is at an all time low in most any real election these days throughout Canada and the US.

One could bemoan the pop culture mentality but the producers are obviously getting attention and the audience know what to do using their cellphones + computers. I find it hard to believe educated people are that much less engaged and incompetent when it comes to the real important issues directly effecting our lives. That is to say we are, but why ...?

It's a mushrooming problem! Hey, do you know how to grow mushrooms? You keep them in the dark and feed them shit.

Truly sad that educated teacher unionists are falling for this but that we are!

Anonymous said...

Every Unit in OECTA should adopt the Bill of Members' Rights in their Unit Bylaws and then it should be enshrined in the OECTA Provincial Handbook. A reverse direction and mandate from the grassroots rank and file member to the Provincial Elites? Needed? YES, today more than ever. An OECTA OMBUDSMAN would be good too. So why doesn't it happen? APATHY comes with consequences. Expect more not less from OECTA and your fellow union members.

Anonymous said...

An OECTA member bill of rights will only happen after a member moves a motion to make it part of their units by-laws or moves a motion to OECTA's AGM. Then all that needs to be done is convince 2/3rds of the 650 delegates.

David Chiarelli said...

And yet it never happens! Why do you think that is the case?

Anonymous said...

It would happen if leaders truly believed in member grassroots empowerment and servant leadership. Parachute Club said it best-"RISE UP AND SHARE YOUR POWER!" All union members of OECTA need to ask themselves why doesn't this happen if members are truly first? Stop saying why it can't happen and all the red tape and barriers to making it happen. Haven't we all had enough in the last two years?

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to watch the amount of endless time and manpower being used by Oecta provincial to "fix" the situation in Halton Elementary Unit. So many people being treated in such a disrespectful manner.
Things were not perfect there and probably needed some cleaning, but look at the" leaders" like O'Dwyer who threw Oecta members' sick day banks away, took away Oecta members' absolute right to vote on concessions, and received no forensic audit, no investigation into the MOU deal, and rather than penalties, were promoted to be a permanent Oecta staff member.
Something doesn't fit there, or does it OECTA members?

David Chiarelli said...

Dear Rise Up!

Somebody has to lead the charge but those who might are all apathetic or getting stomped on for it. Methinks any "democratic reforms" as staged at the Provincial AGM's to "fix" mistakes is pretty much just BS. Like closing the door after the horse gets out, but who opened the barn door in the fist place? Just watch, there will be another crisis soon enough that you will be "fixing" again at next years AGM, just like at the last 2. On and on it will go in ad naseum.

Quite frankly, methinks you are all fucked unless you can organize a grassroots rebellion.

Electronic voting on elections, contracts, and referendums, 1 member 1 vote, could restore some semblence of democracy, but watch out: it will be tightly scripted and only applied accordingly, like so much window dressing.

For example, you have a right to vote on the next contract deal now, whether its electronically or not, I'd be surprised if it is, but anyhow, will each member get one equal vote. Correct me if I'm mistaken but I think not.

Yours,

David C

David Chiarelli said...

Dear forensic audit!

There sure where a lot of surprises discovered in the wake of the OECTA MOU, that only became apparent much later during implementation, like with the gratuities, sick days, LTD and so on. Now even the grid seems up in the air. You will never know what really happened.

It is best to stick to blaming leadership in general, but I wouldn't get too personal with it since the MOU "process" this has taken on a life of its own. We don't know who said or did what behind closed doors during negotiations with the MOE. A forensic audit of the whole 2012 OECTA MOU process sure would be interesting as hell though.

BTW rule by committees at OECTA, Personnel and Discipline for example, is another blind spot that is very troubling and should be investigated appropriately too, but a neutral third party, but don't count on it. Also the question of office secretariat staff contracts. What do you, the members even know about a lot of this?

Next to doodley squat!

Yours,

David C

David Chiarelli said...

BTW folks! Look at the electronic track record for all the unions listed in the blog above. Nobody should feel complacent. This is hardly just an OECTA problem.

Anonymous said...

In the interests of transparency and accountability, maybe it is a time for a forensic audit of every Oecta Provincial Staff Member who makes over $90,000.00? If it is good enough for a local unit, why not at the Provincial level?

Anonymous said...

Makes sense to me. After all, what is good for the goose should be good for the gander. I would much rather start and the top and go down as OECTA seems to do the reverse. Al lthe decisions are made at the top tier and all the sheit goes to the bottom tier!

Anonymous said...

Why bother to have local units at all if big brother and provincial are making all the "wonderful" decisions now? Isn't it unnecessary duplication and extra expense for the members?

David Chiarelli said...

IMHO? Bigger is not better! Small is best!

David Chiarelli said...

Regrets Ms Chievious! Totally get your comment but might be better not to name names til the so the called audit is officially released in complete form and we can read what it really says. So far, regardless of who's right or wrong, the info is too incomplete + what's being shared is still just being used for mudslinging rather than fair debate, in the ongoing provincial HEU civil war .... what a mess! It is a sad school year indeed!

Anonymous said...

What's with the new biography of the HEU Acting President on the new website? It looks like the campaign for election has started but why is no one else allowed to advertise until after May 1?

Anonymous said...

With all the new candidates running in the election in the Halton Elementary Unit election, is the unit holding a MEET THE CANDIDATES NIGHT?

Anonymous said...

Hey David get ready for a provincial election in early June.

David Chiarelli said...

I always love covering elections, get high off it, but this one has me really worried.

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