Friday, March 1, 2013

Looking Around, Looking Back, Looking Ahead

FEB 28th, 2013
by Jeff Kanter, secondary school teacher in Ottawa.

Premier Wynne recently received some very strange support from a most unusual
source: teacher union Leaders. That teacher union Members are wondering if they
are possibly being left out of a loopy looking loop should not be ignored by either
governmental or union bigwigs.

But some looking back first. To succinctly sum up the situation: there is a
substantial provincial deficit in Ontario, created in part by the 2008 global recession
and nurtured by the provincial Liberal government by continuous corporate tax
cuts, ill-conceived spending, and politically motivated financial mismanagement.
Premier McGuinty’s solution was to summarily suspend the collective bargaining
rights of teachers and educational workers and then impose “contracts” which
basically enabled his government to steal approximately 1 Billion dollars from them.

Hence, the source of the present problem is not extra curriculars, but rather what
caused these voluntary activities to be withdrawn. Repealing Bill 115 is a useless,
meaningless, political gesture – when all of its effects, restrictions, and negative
consequences are still firmly in place. And, to repeat yet again, the core of this
source is not a wage Freeze; it is a wage Cut, as so few see fit to acknowledge.

Even the alleged ‘new’ approach, growing out of the provincial government’s
somewhat sudden and certainly new-found sense of respect for teachers (where
did this new attitude even come from??) to the issue of the unpaid days would sadly
seem to be nothing more that smoke and mirrors: at the end of the day, teachers
stand to lose the equivalent of 1.5% of salary in the 2013-14 year.

Perhaps MPP’s salaries should be summarily reduced by 1.5% in exchange for some
unpaid days. Of course, given the number of typical sitting days to begin with, along
with prorogued sessions, that might very well mean that many members of the
legislature will never actually set foot IN Queen’s Park.

But back to the present: just days ago, we receive Ken Coran’s somewhat surprising
and unexpected announcement regarding the reinstatement of extra curricular
activities - which leaves more questions than answers – the rather important
one being just what is being actually offered to the teachers in return for this
extraordinary act of ‘good-will’?

The fact that meetings involving the “new” provincial government and teacher
union leaders have been taking place was openly recognized and welcomed by
all concerned. The new premier made reference to a new attitude of respect
for educational workers and a new dialogue with them. But, if there is no
concrete ‘gain’ of some sort for teachers, then chances are that all the ‘new’s’ will
merely result in the same Old Mess.

A promise to be Nicer in dealings with teachers just isn’t enough. Promises made by
provincial Liberals, given their track record, need to be listened to with a pound of

If there is nothing tangible on a bargaining table that has become scarred and
warped by governmental intransigence and arrogance, delight could quickly
(re)turn to dismay. And whatever is being ‘offered’ (and let us assume for the
moment that this is indeed the case), it needs to be immediately communicated to
the thousands of teachers who have supported union directives regarding extra
curricular activities, and then, in the light of Bill 115, continued in their efforts to
resist bad governmental decisions and policies by making choices of conscience. If
there is nothing other than a vow of perpetual respect, there is the potential for such
backlash as to make what has hitherto occurred seem mild.

Ushering in a new era of respectful co- operation between government and OSSTF
will simply not solve this government-created crisis. Since the implementation of
the recently repealed but still applicable Bill 115, union leaders were under the
microscope to absolutely not force members to withhold voluntary duties. These
leaders should perhaps be reminded that they also cannot magically cause teachers
to return to them.

To vote in a motion supporting a return to the provision of voluntary extra
curricular activities without any tangible quo for that pretty significant quid boggles
the rational mind. And then, to reinforce the idea that all extra curricular activities
are voluntary – the subtext is all painfully clear – serves only to confuse it.

And now, to confuse an already confusing scenario, there is a growing suspicion that
the union leaders have agreed to make nice without ANY significant or meaningful
return. Never mind that Conservative Education Critic and Official Constant
Chirper MacLeod continues to suggest that the new premier has caved in to the
big bad mean old nasty teacher unions. The lack of anything remotely resembling
something concrete in return for the return to voluntary extra curricular activities is
both distressing and downright alarming.

All that noise about union leaders making sure that they clearly did not violate
terms of the repealed Bill 115 by suggesting what members should or should or
should not do regarding voluntary activities… now, for some inexplicable reason,
there does not seem to be any restriction on having union leaders telling members
to go back to the fields and auditoriums and pools and ski slopes etc. Let’s recap:
if union leaders publicly stated that members should NOT do voluntary tasks, that
would be a violation of a bill which has been repealed, but it is somehow perfectly
acceptable for them to tell their members it is okay to DO same. Just a bit confusing,
is all.

Can this all be because it is the time of year when parents choose schools for their
children? Is the threat of a full scale exodus to that other school system, you know,
the one whose leaders meekly accepted without blinking (and without offering
their members a chance to vote) the now infamous MoU, behind the sudden spirit of
acceptance and co operation being displayed by OSSTF?

Those who were around in the mid 1980’s may remember then Premier William
Davis’ decision to extend full funding to the Catholic system. That too was
supposed to result in a massive shift of Catholic students then registered in the
public system back to the Separate School system. Didn’t happen. Certainly some
transfers occurred – just not the wholescale migration that Ms MacLeod is presently
predicting. Nothing like continuing to be a part of the problem instead of part of the
solution. MacLeod’s constant and continuous noise is political point scoring, impure
and simple.

But what a bonus for the newly appointed premier! Without breaking a sweat, she is
now participating in what could very well be the beginning of the end for unions in
education. Of course, there are a few provincial politicians who would not shed too
many tears if this were to take place.

Without giving ANYTHING concrete, Ms Wynne has managed to introduce
noticeable disruption into union ranks, getting the initial signs of serious cracks in
what had only recently been significant solidarity as payback for her efforts.

And of course, before the ink on the motion by OSSTF leaders concerning the
cessation of the withdrawl of voluntary activities was dry, everyone in the media
seemed to be celebrating a fait accompli. Thankfully, there were a few contrary
articles, hinting that all might not be well and happy among the ranks of those who
actually Provide those thousands of voluntary hours.

Union leaders should be communicating more effectively with their members and
should be giving these same members the opportunity to react to what is now
allegedly on the table. We pays our fees – we should gets our chance to yea or nay.

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