Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A message for Kathleen, Liz, Ken, and Sam.

A message for Kathleen, Liz, Ken, and Sam.

by Andy Wilson, a secondary teacher in Ottawa.

Woohoo! A new Premier! A new education minister! It's time for union leaders to make nice with the new government leaders and for teachers to go back to volunteering for free!

Yeah, right.

Anyone who thinks that changing the premier and the education minister will dampen education workers' outrage is delusional. I'm not stinkin' mad at Laurel or Dalton - I'm furious that I have had my collective bargaining rights suspended. I can't believe that I, a union member, am going to work every day, working under an imposed contract that I haven't even had a chance to read, let alone bargain over or vote on!

My union leaders -  I'm looking at you, Ken - might make a calculated decision that what's done is done, and it's best for workers to go back to volunteering at their workplace for free in order to provide extra-curricular activities for Ontario's students. That would count as a "gesture of goodwill," signalling to the new government ministers that the union would like to negotiate a fair contract in 2014, if that's ok with Kathleen and Liz, pretty please!

What a joke.

If education workers stop protesting the loss of their collective bargaining rights, they won't ever get them back. What will a future government do when it decides it is politically expedient to go after public servant salaries and benefits in difficult economic times? If the government thinks that they can pass a law that strips workers of their rights and their negotiated benefits, and that workers will eventually accept it, the government will do it again.

Maybe education workers DO want to stop fighting. Maybe they're ok with only having collective bargaining rights during good financial times - maybe they're ok with working under an imposed contract that stripped negotiated benefits that have been in place for decades. If Ken Coran and Sam Hammond seriously think that's the case, they need to poll their membership. We already voted over 90% in favour of taking strike action, and we also voted over 80% to stage a political protest (on a work day) to protest Bill 115 and imposed contracts. Let's have one more vote that allows members to steer the course of their union.

If education workers make it clear that they will not accept the loss of their collective bargaining rights, their union leaders have a responsibility to listen to their members. They will need to repeat to the government the demand of their rank and file members: we demand the right to vote on a freely negotiated contract. Until we are working under a negotiated contract, we will not go back to volunteering at our workplaces. Ken might want to keep this in mind when meeting with Liz on Valentine's Day.

A new premier and a new education minister means nothing. What counts is what they do. If they want to make nice, if they want teachers to go back to voluntary activities, they need to immediately move to restore collective bargaining rights for education workers.

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