So now they want peace
by Andy Wilson, a secondary teacher in Ottawa.
Leaders from the four education workers' unions met with Ontario's next premier, Kathleen Wynne, just yesterday. Right now the focus is not on restoring education workers' collective bargaining rights, but on finding a way to bring back "extra-curricular" activities to Ontario's public schools.
Extra-curriculars are pretty nice. Students get clubs and sports and enriching activities for free (or nearly free) and these activities can contribute to enhancing a student's experience. Everyone understands the value in these activities, so when they disappear, it's natural for all of us to feel a little distressed at children across the province losing something that's important to them.
So, let's get those activities back, right? Ok. Here's what you need to do: respect the collective bargaining process. It'd be really easy. Take the OECTA MOU and all the changes that have happened to it until now, include all the other unaffected provisions from the last collective agreement, and put it to a vote to the workers. This is what is supposed to be the legal process. Poof - the teacher's best argument ("We want our democratic rights!") would become moot.
Ok, so education workers vote on the working conditions that were already imposed on them. If they vote "yes," then we're done! Teachers, even those who voted against the contract, would respect the democratic vote and would feel comfortable demonstrating their good will by returning to extra-curricular activities. If they vote "no," - well, I'll admit, things get a bit more complicated, but hear me out.
So they vote no. That means they strike. Oh my gosh! A strike at the schools! Won't someone PLEASE think of the children?? Well, sure. But a strike isn't gonna cause anyone extreme or irreparable harm. I went through a two week withdrawal of services when I was in grade 11 and I turned out ok. And we have to remember that a full walkout is a very blunt weapon not to be used willy-nilly - OSSTF engaged in minor forms of strike action for most of December. My students didn't even notice.
But maybe it does come to a strike (or a lockout), and a full withdrawal of services. Let's say schools are closed for, say, three days. What would happen? Well, either people from all walks of like will start screaming at the gov't to end the crisis by giving into some demands, or people will scream at the unions to suck it up, take the contract strips, and get back to work. What's more likely, of course, is you'll get a mixture of both.
So the labour disruption drags on. Schools haven't been open for two weeks. Workers have been the focus of vicious attacks in the media, and they're out a paycheque (strike pay doesn't cover too much). If the strikers don't have the resolve to continue job action (if they don't think they're fight is worth it, or it becomes clear they don't have public support) then the union will be forced to go back to negotiations and agree to concessions. If the union doesn't, scabs will start going to work. The union would crumble - and the union won't ever let that happen.
Ok, so what if the workers DO keep up the job action? (because they think it's worth it, and the public is on their side). Well, then maybe the government is wrong, and they need to come back to negotiations and agree to settle their differences with the workers. I won't get into what that deal might look like (I've gone into that in previous posts anyways), but the point is, the government can find ways to make enough concessions to get the workers back to work if they have to.
The whole point is that, if education workers' collective bargaining rights were respected, we'd have a resolution to this conflict within a month. People won't stand for a strike or lockout to continue for more than a couple weeks. This isn't the NHL. Citizens won't stand for their children to be out of school for too long - and workers and employers will listen.
The only thing that will ensure disruption in Ontario's schools for years to come is the continual suspension of education workers' collective bargaining rights. Force them to work under an imposed contract, and you'll have disruptions like the loss of voluntary activities until a new contract is negotiated and voted upon. Respect workers' collective bargaining rights, and you'd have a solution inside of a month. It won't be easy as we deal with strikes and/or lockouts, but democracy isn't very easy either. And we don't suspend democracy every time we have a deficit.