Opening Statement



Sunday, 13 September 2015

OSSTF: Why I'm Voting No? [And Why You Should Too!]

Written by Heather Byrnes, D12/OSSTF Toronto Member. Highlights mine. 



The following think piece is making the online rounds. It is posted here for your convenience and consideration;

The following are reasons that I cannot vote yes to this tentative agreement:I was lied to.I attended the Special Meeting of the Provincial Assembly (SMPA) in May 2014 where not only the "Strike Strategy" of roll out strikes in districts across the province, but a financial strategy of how to pay for our Brothers and Sisters who would be on the line was revealed and approved unanimously. 

I "rounded up the troops" to attend the information meeting that would reveal the strategy to the larger Toronto membership at the Convention Centre on October 2, 2014. I acted as an advocate, a support system, a question-answering representative of my union, encouraging people that this is what solidarity looked like, that this is what our war was going to entail, that we would hold strong, stand united, and win against the austerity measures that were punishing educators in this province for a deficit that they did not create. 

I promised to fight in whatever way was asked of me -whether it meant walking the line myself, or funding my brothers and sisters through my own pay -because I was promised that my union would wage war for real gains, for real improvements for me, for my grid, for my working conditions. I did what my union asked me to do, in hopes that they would do what they promised they would do. Now I'm gladly paying for my brothers and sisters' strike, but I have not received what I was promised -real gains, real improvements or real recognition of what I face as a teacher in Toronto and in Ontario.

I will not be bribed. I am an on-grid teacher and the way I see it, I am being bribed by September 1st grid movement. According to promises and guarantees by our former OSSTF leadership, delayed grid movement to the 97th day was a "cost saving measure" and would last a maximum of 2 years under Bill 115 and the MOU, which were set to expire as imposed contracts on August 31, 2014. 

After 3 years (not 2) of delayed grid movement (a grievance, we've been assured, has been filed), our present leadership used restored movement to September 1st as a bargaining chip with OPSBA and the government, and now they're using it to get Grid Teachers to vote yes, selling it as a gain they earned at the table. It shouldn't have happened in the first place, let alone for a 3rd year. It shouldn't have been on the table for negotiations, as it was an expired portion of an old MOU (a MOU that we were asked to vote yes for, by the way).


I am not a one-issue voter, and one item aimed at me doesn't take away from the rest of the items that are insulting to us as teachers and members who were told that salary and the grid was a "hill to die on". Under the tentative agreement, all teachers will also receive a 1% "lump sum" pay out as a signing bonus. The quotation marks around "lump sum" are used purposefully, by the way, because the 1% will be added to your pay cheques over 26 pays, not as an actual lump sum. It is also taxable. Keep in mind that we are also paying approximately 0.7% of each pay cheque for the Strike Levy. The 1% is also not part of a raise, as it will not change your salary either on,or at the top of the grid, and is not calculated on allowances like PORs. This is a bribe, plain and simple.  

I am smart enough to see through this tactic to literally buy my vote at 0.3% of my salary. We've been made to look like liars and hypocrites.The media strategy that our union employed in the Spring during the walk-out strikes in 3 districts was flawed, and has now forced us into a position where if we vote yes, we are hypocrites, complicit in stripping classrooms of resources (to fund our "net zero" "raises", of course --to the public, the money had to come from somewhere), and if we vote no, we look like liars because it was about money the whole time. 

Our union went to the press, saying that our issues were class sizes and supervision/on-call/APA language; while those are certainly important and were definitely on the table, so was salary, which was purposely never  mentioned in the press. Paul Elliot explained to me that the discussion on teacher salary did not "do well" in the focus groups (that we paid for) with parents and community members before the strikes started. Salary is too awkward to talk about when it comes to teachers --but the Police, Firefighters and nurses can talk salary in their media discussions on their negotiations. Hmm

I know that individual teacher members who are informed on the topic have brought up salary with their family, friends, and neighbours, and it's a difficult discussion because largely, the public wants us to do our job and extra-curriculars for free. They do not want us to be recognized for our years of experience, our education level or to be paid at fair, market-value levels, in line with inflation and cost of living. Paul Elliot told the attendees of the in-person meeting that the government has actually had to chip in between $100-300 million dollars to fund these very-modest salary increases, but that's after stripping literally billions of dollars from education over the last 3 years alone.

I refuse to believe it's raining, when someone spits in my eye. Our union is working hard to sell the 1.5% increase as a gain, a real raise,because the numbers that appear on and at the top of the grid will increase by 1% next September 1st (2016), and again on the 97th day, by 0.5%. This is after 0% in 2012, 0% in 2013 (both years had unpaid days), 0% in 2014, and 0% in 2015. To me, that is a 1.5% increase over 5 (and a half) years. 

Do you find it interesting that the 1.5% raise will come during the year that Provincial OSSTF has its next election (at AMPA 2017)? Do you find it interesting that the 1.5% raise will come during the year that the Ontario Liberals plan to balance their budget? Do you find it interesting that the 1.5% increase comes during the last year of this "contract" (if it is ratified)? Do you remember being told in 2013 that voting yes to the MOU, that made improvements on the imposed contract of Bill 115, would put us in a better bargaining position in 2014? Do you think it did?

Looking at the insulting chart that OSSTF put together (comparing OPSBA's opening brief position to the tentative agreement), it looks to me that we are being asked to vote to maintain the strips of Bill 115 and the MOU --we are being asked to ratify a deal that is an acceptance of, approval of, and embracing of Bill 115 and the MOU. Would any of you have voted for Bill 115 in September 2012? Why would you now? 


I am a public servant, my employer is funded by the province, and I am not getting a real raise because my profession has been attacked and slandered in the media.

The Toronto police got an 8.35% wage increase over 4 years, won in March of this year. Their previous contract, which was settled in 2011 saw them awarded an 11.4 per cent raise over four years. Their wages have not been frozen.

The Ontario Provincial Police got 8.55% over 3 years starting January 1, 2014.

Arbitration won firefighters as much as 15.1% over 4 years (Windsor), 10% over 3 years (Peterborough), 14.3% over 5 years (Toronto), 9.2% over 3 years (St. Catherines). Many of the municipal firefighters had been in wage freeze situations for many years when these gains were won.

Ontario nurses received a paltry 3% over 2 years, which was 0.6% less than they were asking for. Still, it was a gain when they had been told there was "no new money" for healthcare. 

Anything less than adjustments to our salary that consider inflation and cost of living for teachers in Ontario is a loss, not a gain. Inflation in Ontario was 1.5% in 2012, 1% in 2013, and 2.1% in 2014 and we were "given" 0% in each of those years, or forced to take unpaid days, resulting in a pay cut. Remember: it is not our job to pay down the deficit; it is the government's job to provide services like Education, which includes paying qualified teachers what they are worth according to their experience and education level, as well as allowances for doing organizational work like PORs. It is their job to find the money and spend it responsibly instead of on failed initiatives and projects and campaigning for the Feds.

I will not be threatened or scared into voting yes. When asked what the next steps are if the tentative agreement is not ratified, we were told that it is expected that we would go back to the bargaining table. The other two parties may claim that this is the best offer than can give, and will refuse more table discussions. In fact, as recently as Friday they have walked away from talks with our brothers and sisters in ETFO. 

We could be sent to arbitration and that, according to Paul Elliot,would put all of OPSBA's strips back on the table. All I have to say is that we gave a strong strike mandate to fight and continue to fight until we see real gains and improvements, so let's fight. The Saskatchewan teachers received a 7.5% raise over 4 years after not ratifying a previous offer and going back to the table. It can and has been done. The government needs us, and the federal Liberals are counting on the provincial ones to make them look good. 

Will Wynne sully her reputation with Trudeau over teachers' contracts? I doubt it. Solidarity is of utmost importance. Our experienced members have been through grid freezes at a cost much higher than current grid teachers are facing now. In solidarity, experienced teachers should vote no to support grid teachers because they know the impact. Our experienced members lost enormous amounts of money in sick leave gratuity, and newer members should vote no because there is nothing that comes close to remedying the experienced teachers' losses over the last 3 years in this deal. 

Our brothers and sisters in CUPE are already on strike, AEFO will begin job action on September 18th, and our brothers and sisters in ETFO are already being told that the offer they've received was good enough for OSSTF and OECTA, it should be good enough for them.The government has walked away from their table. Their president promised the government "the fight of their lives" with ETFO! 

Voting yes undermines the affiliates' action (WTR) in schools as well as their negotiations,and we should vote no in solidarity with them, to rejoin them on the front lines for education.Your vote for or against this tentative agreement is all about your dignity as an educator, and your integrity as a brother or sister to your colleagues. 

Please Vote No!


How will you vote?

COMMENTS:

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

In addition to wondering what the limiting factor is for negotiations, I wonder how 'fair, market-value' of teacher compensation is determined. An ETFO member at an information picket suggested a comparative private sector occupation would be lawyer because of 'years of schooling'. It occurs to me though that a lawyer has very different working conditions - ie, they rent their own space, pay their own support staff, fund their own benefits, obtain and retain their own clients, bill their clients, collect from their clients, and have a very explicit merit system (win the case, get more clients, lose get none). How does that reconcile with 'Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions'. Also incorrect to define teacher services as 'essential' in the sense of 'on-demand, 24/7, because if I don't receive the service right now my life will change in a non-recoverable way'. Education is essential, uninterruped instruction from a member of an Ontario Teachers' Union is not. If you believe your increases should be funded by annexing profit (corporate tax increase) from my employer (so, by definition not available for increases for me), or borrowing from my kids (deficit spending) I'm ready for the fight as well. We just did 9 weeks without teacher services, we can do another 9 under the same model.

Anonymous said...

Oh really? Many lawyers are also employees, like teachers. So they have salaries, benefit plans, etc., and they don't need to rent space or hire staff. Also, with respect to the "essentialness" of teaching - try going for 9 weeks without ELEMENTARY teachers, rather than secondary. It's one thing to leave a 16 year old home while you go to work; how would that work with a six year old? Plus, your employers' profits are liked inflated by the tax breaks my government gives them (against my will, I might add). As a citizen, I'd like to see those tax breaks moderated a bit so that hospitals, schools, etc., get their fair share.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Heather for taking the time to detail your concerns. I am an OECTA member and have tried to stay informed. It is a challenge however, as with the school year upon us I am back on the hamster wheel with very little personal time.
From what I gather the Govn't made many false threats regarding class sizes, prep time, etc. in order to fear monger among our members. My class size is already too large for proper instruction, and my prep time is commonly sacrificed for meetings, assemblies, etc. In fair "bargaining" they should have offered improved conditions rather than threatening (from bad to) worse. These intimidation tactics did nothing to improve class conditions. Status quo does not help the children.
The previous contract strips and years of pay freeze (and deficits) were not remotely addressed in the proposed contract. I feel, like yourself, that it is shameful to expect teachers to accept a meager 1% + 0.5% increase in the 5th year. With COLA and inflation we a taking a drastic step backwards and setting a scary precedent by accepting this contract. My dignity is more valuable. I will be voting NO.

David Chiarelli said...

Dear Salary: While I don't disagree w/ the gist of your Comments cannot confirm numbers given. For example KOD 2x as much? Halton? Regrets! DTC

Anonymous said...

"Try going for 9 weeks without ELEMENTARY teachers" - the school year is 38 weeks, so we already do 14 weeks EVERY YEAR without elementary teachers. Most people get maybe 5 weeks holiday tops if you include stat. holidays - leaving 9 weeks to figure out what to do without teachers. People figure it out year after year, so they can figure it out for 9 week lock out.

Anonymous said...

I am wondering why our union appears to be expanding into creating insurance fiefdoms with additional costs to teachers when they apparently need to focus on bargaining as they obviously can't bargain their way out of a matchbox. Their mandate is bargaining for teachers not building expensive insurance empires and expanding the already bureaucracy heavy unions!

Anonymous said...

David OECTA members will be paying 800$ extra per annum for the "new and improved" provincial plan. How much will the new benefits plan cost OECTA members I wonder. I don't understand the expansion of OECTA's mandate at a time when they can't or won't bargain for TEACHERS! Bafffled!

Anonymous said...

My advice to OECTA provincial- Get good at one thing collective bargaining before you launch out into new areas! Teachers are fast becoming second class citizens due to your ineptitude. Your mandate is to bargain good contracts for TEACHERS not to sell insurance!

Anonymous said...

Let them strike if they want to. Teachers never see that they get automatic wage increases through grid movement.

David Chiarelli said...

You need to do more homework on "teachers". We only get a grid raise during the first ten years, to bring one up to a level that is roughly equivalent to our qualifications. Then nada, not even COLA. How many years of education and training did you have to do for your job? Ontario's teachers are among the most qualified and highly trained in the world. I figure I did 8 years of post secondary studies, including my ongoing additional qualification courses. But its more than that now .... You would be paying most other professionals a heckuva lot more than we can ever earn teaching.

Anonymous said...

My Goodness Heather. That is one fantastic piece you wrote. I am shocked that we in OSSTF endorsed this by 78.2%. That is ridiculous. My school voted mostly no so I was really under the impression the numbers would be something less than a ringing endorsement of the MOU we were forced to take 3 years ago.

Anonymous said...

I'm concerned about the integrity of the on-line voting process. Is it (was it) managed by a third party neutral? Does anybody have first-hand knowledge?

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