Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why I Am Voting No

As I walked through Bill 115's scorched-earth labour landscape, I saw an oasis in the distance. Political donations, favourable results at a leadership convention and a “new tone” had led me to expect a tall drink of fairly negotiated water, but woe is me, the oasis was a mirage and negotiations nothing more than heat lines above a summer's highway. I will vote over the next week and my vote will be no. I hope that at least 50% plus one will vote with me. Here is the short version of my rationale for such a vote. A provincial ratification of this deal will allow the government to loudly and proudly announce that they successfully negotiated a deal with Ontario’s teachers. They will claim to have “negotiated” the elimination of bankable sick days, they will boast that they have managed to “fairly and legally collectively bargain” the end of the gratuity and a yes vote will aid and abet in these lies. So I will vote no, the detailed version of my rationale follows.

The Contract Itself
In a normal year contract negotiations begin with an examination of the pre-existing contract. From that point the conversation between the stakeholders moves to a discussion of what each side would like to see removed, changed or added to the expiring (or expired - as is usually the case) Collective Bargaining Agreement. The deal that we are voting on did not use the previous contract as its foundation. Rather this deal is built upon the contract that was imposed effective January 3, 2013. The proposed agreement is not a new deal at all; it is a series of amendments to a problematic deal that reneged on contractual promises made to teachers over decades of legitimate negotiations. And about those amendments, as it turns out, they are all minor. Most of what’s in this deal was available to us before Kathleen Wynne ever set foot in the Premier’s office. This MOU looks very much like the deals that were voted down in York Region and the Niagara District and accepted in Upper Grand in November.

Sick Days
Consider the sick day provisions. Everything in this amended deal is the same as the three November deals. Identical. Except for the elimination of the adjudication process and the possibility of receiving two-thirds pay while off sick for an “unapproved” illness. Sounds good, until you realize some boards, including mine, had abandoned the idea of the 66% payout because it was too expensive to operate the adjudication process. So the OSSTF was able to get the government to eliminate an initiative that was too costly to be implemented. Well done.

The Voluntary Leave of Absence Program is another left over from November’s contractual trifecta. I have to believe that the OSSTF could have negotiated this into our collective agreements at any time over the past thirty years. Why wouldn’t the boards or government go for a program that saves significant money every time it is accessed? Financially, the VLAP program makes more sense for the boards than the four-over-five program.

The amended payouts for money owed to teachers under previously, and freely, negotiated gratuity agreements is laughable. The York, Niagara and Guelph deals were paying out at ten percent of money owed, now that has increased to the lofty sum of 25% (FYI. Guelph had no gratuity - so it’s little wonder why that bargaining unit accepted their deal). If I were to receive one of these payouts, my 161 sick days would pay me a total, before taxes, of just over $7 000 (instead of the $2 800 in the November deals - and instead of the $28 000 owed to me). So instead of breaking into my house and robbing me of everything I own, except for the floorboards and light fixtures, the government now has seen fit to leave me a couple of eggs in the fridge. And if, like me, your sick days are vested, you get to collect one of the lesser of three calculations when you retire. So for me, the $22 000 my vested days merit (the least of the three calculations) will be collected in 2029, when it’s worth maybe $10 000. As for the half a year’s salary specified in the contract I signed over a decade ago, forget about it. But don’t forget, all of this has been “fairly negotiated” if we vote yes to this deal. Unpaid Days The unpaid days provision in the in “new and improved” amended deal is worse than the unpaid days outlined in the Upper Grand contract. The pre-Wynne triple-header of deals actually included only one unpaid day. The soon to be voted on deal includes two unpaid days off. One of the days might be eliminated, but we will have to wait and see if the board saves enough money through other means, and if you don’t take six sick days - you will get reimbursed for the other day. So the OSSTF effectively managed to negotiate a “maybe” on one unpaid day and the potential reimbursement for the other if you don’t get too sick next year.

Future Grid
The federation has been trumpeting a grid guarantee from the government. However, when one reads the MOU, he or she discovers that this guarantee is rather weak. Read the following, taken directly from the MOU: The government shall meet to review school board employee salary grids with stakeholders during the term of the 2012 to 2014 collective agreements including, but not limited to, how employees move on the experience and qualification salary grid (where applicable) and the variation currently in the monetary value of each grid step, with a view to future sustainability. The funding parameters for OSSTF/FEESO salary grids shall remain consistent throughout the process. Absent agreement during the review, any change to grid issues shall be the subject of collective bargaining for the next collective agreement. So all that is guaranteed, is that the government will negotiate any changes to the grid at the conclusion of this deal (August 31, 2014). Why would they have to promise something that is clearly ensconced in labour law? Will they “negotiate” changes to the grid much the way they “fairly negotiated” the elimination of sick days and gratuities? Will the union tell us a 15 step grid is a good deal after the government originally imposed a 17 step grid?

The Court Challenge Of Bill 115
I recently read the latest OSSTF communication claiming that a strong yes vote would strengthen our court case against Bill 115. As a result of reading that message, I now know what it’s like to step through the looking glass and converse in jabberwocky, to swallow the blue pill, to embrace the Roswell alien, and to slow dance with Mr. Topsy-Turvy. A yes vote will allow the government to enter the courtroom armed with a strong argument for the case’s dismissal, as not only did they repeal the bill, they managed to fairly negotiate and collectively bargain a deal freely agreed to by the province’s teachers. I have heard other arguments, among themis the goal of avoiding Hudak’s Tories. The hypothesis that forfeiting this battle will help us maybe win a future war does not bode well for future contracts – win the contract battle, and then win in the political arena when the time comes. When I hear some amongst us suggest that we should vote to accept this deal because it’s imperceptibly less awful than the imposed contract, I recall smores, stars and being asked “which would you rather, to lick your father’s deodorant stick or your mother’s summer worn pantyhose?” And while “which would you rather” is an awesome campfire game, it’s a horrible way to negotiate a compensation package for educators in the number one educational jurisdiction in the English speaking world. Mr. and Msteacher which would you rather, to get royally screwed or to get regally screwed? I for one will vote for not getting screwed and frankly for never getting screwed again. Ratification is complete surrender. 

Rob Scott April 11, 2013

Monday, April 1, 2013

OSSTF's illegitimate "tentative agreement"

OSSTF's illegitimate "tentative agreement"
by Andy Wilson, a secondary teacher in Ottawa.

I am calling on all OSSTF members to reject the "tentative agreement" reached between our union and the government of Ontario. Whatever gains we might have negotiated to improve the imposed working conditions implemented through Bill 115, they are not enough for us to tacitly legitimize the attacks against our bargaining rights that we have endured over the past year.

We are not really bargaining right now. The government used Bill 115 to impose strips to our contracts and benefits. Those strips remain in place. Our new premier and new education minister have repeatedly said they will not revisit the imposed working conditions, and that there is no "new money" to make up for what was stolen from us. The government is still refusing to engage in real bargaining, and the imposed working conditions are not going away.

Real bargaining would be different: we'd be starting from the last legal collective agreement - our contracts as of August 2012. We would sit down with our employers (the school boards) and hear how they would implement the cuts to their funding from the Ministry of Education. There would be some back and forth. Both sides would have to compromise. And, if pressure was needed, there would be strikes and/or lockouts. That's how the process is supposed to work.

All that we're likely to get from any tentative agreement is something "substantially identical" to the imposed OECTA MOU - the memorandum of understanding that our leadership previously stated was unacceptable to OSSTF members. Last December, OSSTF members from a number of bargaining units rejected such "substantially identical" tentative agreements. We may have a new premier and a new minister of education, but what we are being offered has not changed. Members should vote against any deal that was "negotiated" under the terms imposed through Bill 115, whether it was in December with Dalton, or in March with Kathleen.

This fight isn't for money and benefits; it's much bigger than that. OSSTF members need to continue to fight for their collective bargaining rights. Endorsing a tentative agreement reached through a process that does not respect those rights sends the wrong message. Endorsing such agreements says that workers are willing to accept the suspension of their collective bargaining rights. If that's the case, how do we think a future government will approach collective bargaining with education workers? If they can pass a law to skirt the legal process, and then merely weather some low-level protest action by workers for a few months, they will. They will come for our salaries; they will continue to whittle away our secure pensions.

Some would argue that it's better to vote for what we can get, give up fighting, and hope for the best next round. That's the easy way, of course. But members need to remember that we will get what we are willing to struggle for. In the 70s, OSSTF members resigned en masse in order to force the government to respect their right to strike. In 2012, had we continued to struggle when Bill 115 was imposed, rather than try to mitigate the damage by "bargaining" with the government within the bill's parameters, we might not be finding ourselves in this current situation. But it's never too late to start to fight back, and it's always too easy to give in during a long struggle.

So again, OSSTF members, I urge you to consider what has happened over the past year and think hard about what signal we would send by endorsing any tentative agreement with the government that doesn't address the imposed working conditions implemented through Bill 115. This fight is for collective bargaining rights, and we don't have them yet. Don't give up!