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!

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