Monday, 14 September 2015
OSSTF: Why This Guy Cannot Ratify!
I don’t drink enough alcohol.
And in an effort to address this problem, I sometimes look for an occasion in which to imbibe. Last year, I found myself at a rousing union meeting, all the important OSSTF acolytes were walking the dais, wearing suits and enjoying the aura of a hefty gravitas. They outlined the big plan, the blue print for the Promised Land, that would take us out of the shadows of austerity and into the milk and honey of real improvements and labour victory. Titillated by the plan, I vowed to crack open a bottle of expensive vino when the government acquiesced under the pressure of organized edu-labour.
So here we are. The deal is done, the fight is fought, and the spoils of victory are upon us. But now that I can see the deal, the LCBO will have to wait. This is more of a kool-aid occasion and I would have to drink a whole lotta OSSTF executive-flavoured kool-aid to ever think this deal is tasty enough to ratify.
Let us examine the deal from two perspectives. The deal itself and the message it sends.
From the very beginning Paul Elliott, OSSTF president, said we would not settle for anything less than “real gains” or “real improvements.” Insert war metaphor here, perhaps something about the magnificent seven. We would fight until “real gains and real improvements” were realized. These non-specific terms were never defined and are essentially meaningless, but as the students say, that’s what he said.
So as I sift through the deal in search of real gains, here is what I can find: NOTHING. Real is a really interesting modifier. When our president uses the modifier “real” he is suggesting that the improvements must be measured against some sort of standard that would quantify the improvement as being tangible. By the way, somebody call my parents, they would be thrilled to know that I just made use of my Linguistics degree.
So when speaking about real money in the real world most real people tend to speak about real purchasing power. I decided to check the Canadian Dollar against other currencies and it turns out that I make over a million dollars a year in many countries, (heck, in Belarus and Vietnam us teaching types are billionaires - wowza). But being a Billionaire in Hanoi is not the same as being a Billionaire in Forest Hill. It’s about how far the money actually goes. Thankfully, there are tools that let us track the purchasing power of a teacher’s salary.
According to the Bank of Canada's inflation calculator, $100 of goods in 2012 would cost $104.77 today. So inflation over the past three years has been 4.77%. Therefore, a top earning TDSB teacher who earned $94 707 in 2012 would need to earn $99 227.99 today, according to the Bank of Canada, to have maintained her or his purchasing power. At the end of this deal (June 2017) the top earning teacher will be making $96 132.34 and it should be noted that the Bank of Canada's calculation of $99K plus change does not take into account two more years of inflation before the end of this proposed deal.
So how “real” is this raise? Your raise really does exist, you just won’t feel it in any real world sort of way. In fact, it will feel more like a pay cut than a raise. Is this what the OSSTF leadership meant when they said “real improvements and real gains?” Somebody please tell me they weren’t just playing word games when they were selling us a strike strategy.
That Blasted Chart
Yes, that chart, created by the OSSTF to seal the deal. It compares our tentative contract to the first offer made by the government and the Ontario Public School Board’s Association. Why would the OSSTF compare the offer they accepted to the one they originally deemed offensive and unacceptable. Doesn’t that legitimize the offer that was so problematic it put three boards out on the picket line? It’s a little like comparing apples to vomit - you could do it, but why would you? Why not compare the proposed contract to our current contract, or the OSSTF’s original offer, or the contract negotiated in 2008. It seems like they’re trying to sell us something.
Grid Movement and Benefits
The return of grid movement at the beginning of the school year as opposed to the middle of the school year would on the surface seem to constitute a real gain. But history and truth are demanding bedfellows. The Liberal candidate for London West, Ken Coran, told us delayed grid movement was a temporary salary restraint that would only be in place for two years, and at the conclusion of the two year period it would automatically disappear - KAZAAM - it would be gone. I guess the former OSSTF President/Liberal Candidate failed to mention this fact to the current “real gains” president of the OSSTF. Mr. Elliot allowed grid movement to become a bargaining chip and allowed those on the grid to endure three years of delayed grid movement as opposed to the originally agreed upon two years, that sounds like a real loss to me.
As for the benefits, I don’t see much to put up party streamers about. The notion of the OSSTF taking over our benefits has been around for a while. Originally, it was an idea that was intended to save the government money without having to gut our contract. They gutted our contract anyways. And after the MOU was implemented we were told there was a commitment from the government to explore and implement an OSSTF administered benefits plan. And that commitment is all that exists in this proposed deal. So where is the elusive real gain? Is it in the 4% inflationary trigger contained in the proposal - no. The four percent is only available if we take over the plan, the language of the tentative deal, says funding for benefits will remain status quo if the OSSTF does not take over the benefits plan. When did the OSSTF’s administration of a provincial benefits plan move from being an idea to avoid massive strips to our contract (which happened anyways) to just a nice idea with a bonus of two years of inflation funding if we actually take over our benefits? And about that four percent - it galls me to no end that the parties that put this deal together acknowledge the significance of inflation when it comes to our benefits but not when it comes to our actual pay cheques.
The signing bonus is NOT a raise, as it will not change the salary grid. It’s a bribe, and a pathetic one at that, as most of it will go to paying off the .73% that will be deducted from your salary this year for the strike action that barely happened last year. And by the way, that lump sum, is more of an drippy sum as it will be paid out 1/26th at a time, adding one percent to every pay cheque you receive throughout the year. My take home pay will go up about $23 per cheque, before the $16-18 (estimated) deduction to finance last year’s strikes. Now fellow teachers, try not to spend that signing bonus all in one place (like at a Dollar Store).
And seriously, somebody negotiated one more PD day? Is that a concession on our part? What did we get in return?
But with all that being said, my biggest issue with the deal being proposed is the message that ratification would send.
The Message to the OSSTF leadership
If the leadership of our union wants to talk tough as nails, old school labour thuggishiness and then cave with a token fight, we need to tell them it’s simply “not good enough.” Mr. Elliot and his cadre said that we would wage war, they didn’t tell us our armaments were comprised of squirt guns and potato cannons. We had a strike plan that could have been executed early last school year and renewed for this year, it wasn’t. At AMPA we were told seven districts would be on strike if we didn’t have a deal by May 1, 2015. Three districts walked the pavement. A “no” vote will tell the leadership not to overpromise and radically under-deliver. Especially, after our sick days and gratuities were lost, grid movement was delayed, and we had to take unpaid days in the previous deal.
The OSSTF is telling its membership that this is the best deal we’re going to get (without much of a fight). And that may be true. But, in the midst of Bill 115, our leadership went to the teachers of Guelph, York and Niagara with a deal that they said was the best deal they would be able to negotiate. Two of those districts, York and Niagara, voted no to the deal and a few months later, the teachers of Ontario were presented a deal that was better than the rejected deal. There is always a better deal and we were told to expect a fight for it.
The Message to the Government
Don’t fund power plant closures, minor league Olympic boondoggles, ORNGE fiascos, and raises for cops, doctors, hydro employees, and the LCBO (an aside, the LCBO is an essential service) while picking our pockets and telling us the cupboard is bare when it comes to education. Oh, and don’t you dare go to the media and vilify teachers and tell the public that we and our blessed “gold plated pension” are the essence of the economic elite.
The Message for Everybody
What do South Korea and Finland have in common? They are typically held up as two of the top performing school systems in the world by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). But they have radically different approaches to education. They differ greatly when it comes to standardized testing, to hours spent in the classroom, to notions of curriculum and teacher autonomy. Really, the common denominator between the two is the respect the two systems afford the teaching profession. In fact, in Finland, teachers are so respected that it is harder to get into Teacher’s College than it is to get into Med. School.
If we ratify this deal we are indicating that it is okay to devalue education; that it is okay to come to the bargaining table with a ludicrous proposal that undoes many of the advances that have improved education in our province. And that we are okay with the continued slide towards a more American system of education and the exploitation of education for political purposes.
If we ratify this deal we are abdicating our responsibility to work for the improvement and betterment of education. Teachers must be the vanguards of education and if we accept this deal, we are turning a blind-eye to the continued slow motion destruction of education in Ontario.
The single biggest variable in a child’s educational experience is the adult standing in front of the blackboard. It’s not the policies, nor is it the total hours in class, nor the curriculum’s nuances, and it certainly is not in the administration of standardized testing. It’s about real people working to create real moments and real value for students. And every time education is devalued in our society, whether through reductions in our compensation package, or strips to contract language, or suggesting publicly that teachers are overpaid, underworked, entitled public servants with gold-plated pensions - we lose something. We lose a good person who leaves the profession. Or we lose the young man or woman who was considering a career in education and opts instead for engineering, or law school, or med. school, or business school, or some other more respected higher-paying profession. We lose, and the students lose...and these losses are harder to regain than a couple of percentage points on a salary grid.
I will vote no for my ideals, for my finances and for my daughter who will enter the system in a couple of years.
On second thought, I think maybe I will have a drink (alcohol, not kool-aid).
Posted by David Chiarelli at 12:00