Monday, July 29, 2013

Open Letter to Ken Coran

Hi Ken,

You might remember me. When you were forced to answer questions at the beginning of OSSTF's last AMPA, I asked you a question. I asked, "Ken, I was told that OSSTF was going to fight to repeal Bill 115, rescind our imposed working conditions, and restore collective bargaining. We got the first one - what happened to the other two?" I can't quote your response as accurately as my question, but I remember you telling me that OSSTF provincial executive was indeed working on rescinding our imposed working conditions and restoring our collective bargaining rights, and that I should wait and see what developments would come with Broten and McGuinty gone. Well, I gave you the benefit of the doubt and waited to see what OSSTF would put forward to the members for a vote. And might I say I was severely disappointed.

In the end all I got was some "improvements" to an imposed contract. I never got to vote on a collective agreement. In fact, I worked summer school under an imposed contract that nobody seems sure how to interpret. Local school boards are picking and choosing which parts of our MOU to implement, and my board, Ottawa-Carleton, has so far failed to append the MOU to our existing collective agreement, making it clear that my employer intends to bargain from the starting point of the Bill 115 imposed contracts, rather than the imposed contract including the improvements from the MOU. Whatever I got, I sure didn't get rid of the imposed working conditions, and I sure didn't get my collective bargaining rights back.

So what did you get? Well, you got your retirement from OSSTF (with a fully indexed pension, I assume - something I seriously doubt I will have when I retire in 25 years). But, you also managed to find yourself a new job - with the Liberal Party of Ontario! This is the same party that, less than a year ago, suspended our right to strike and stripped our contracts of benefits we fought for decades ago. Some might think that Kathleen Wynne represents a new government with a new collaborative approach - but I would hope such people would remember that Wynne voted for Bill 115 just like every Liberal MPP in the legislature.

So, I guess I got the answer to my question. Well, I'm not happy, Ken. In fact, I am infuriated. I rallied on the streets for months in support of my union as we fought for our rights to bargain a contract. I marched in the freezing cold only to be offered an MOU that did nothing to undo the damage of Bill 115. And while I get to live with the damage to our rights and our benefits for the rest of my career, you're out trying to win an election as a Liberal candidate. Well, I decided the appropriate way to demonstrate my disappointment with your decisions was to try and make your campaign a little more difficult.

I spent the first day of my summer vacation driving from Ottawa to London to work with other OSSTF dissidents to try and encourage the good citizens of London to vote for another party than the Liberals. I hoped to remind them that the Liberal Party of Ontario intends to continue to fund an austerity agenda by cutting funding to public services like education. I wanted to tell other public servants that Kathleen Wynne has pledged that any improvements to salaries and benefits (even cost-of-living increases) will have to come from program spending. Above all, I wanted to convince voters that the Liberal Party is not the progressive alternative to the Harris PCs that warranted our support over a decade ago.

Well, I'm just one person with a few like-minded allies, so there wasn't much I could do, other than try to get my message out to the voters. This is Canada after all, a democracy where our political freedoms are cherished and respected. Well, let me tell you, you have some staffers in your office that don't seem to have much respect for democratic freedoms at all.

On the afternoon of Saturday, July 27th, I arrived with some fellow OSSTF members to leaflet cars in the parking lot outside your campaign office. I'll attach the text of the leaflet below, but suffice to say the message can be summarized as "Don't vote Liberal, because other parties deserve your support more." You should ask your campaign office workers how they reacted to political action from your opponents. If you really do respect the democratic process, I think you'll be disappointed with how your staffers treated OSSTF members - people who's rights you were fighting for for decades.

Anyways, I did the best I could. If one of the hundreds of leaflets I passed out made even a shred of a difference when it comes to how people will vote, I'll have deemed my action a success.

I hope no idea what directions my union will take now that you are gone. I can only hope that your response to the attacks on our rights will be seen as a blueprint for how NOT to respond when a government decides to attack education workers and their collective bargaining rights. And, I can only hope that, come this Thursday, when Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government faces five by-elections, that every single Liberal candidate is defeated, including you.

Andy Wilson
OSSTF member, Ottawa.

Text of the flyer that was distributed outside Ken Coran's campaign office in London:


  • Don’t like austerity? DON’T VOTE LIBERAL.
  • Don’t like public services being cut to pay for low corporate taxes? DON’T VOTE LIBERAL.
  • Don’t like Bill 115 and restrictions on collective bargaining? DON’T VOTE LIBERAL.

  • The Liberals are not the progressive alternative to the Conservatives they used to be.
  • Other candidates are more deserving of your vote.
  • Show the Liberals that they cannot take your support for granted!

Monday, July 8, 2013

OSSTF, Let's Talk Politics

As I've come to learn more and more about my union, I continue to find myself frustrated with its approach to politics.

Even after the Liberal Party of Ontario took away our bargaining rights and stripped our contracts, there is still support in OSSTF for the party - even support for Liberal candidates in Ontario's current by-elections. I strongly believe that recent history indicates that OSSTF members should seriously re-examine their "Anything But Conservative" election strategy. If we don't, we might find ourselves continuing to be complicit with a government that hurts public education and ignores collective bargaining rights.

Playing strategic got us to where we are. Since the Harris years, as far as I know, OSSTF mostly supported the Liberals, and, where the NDP had the upper hand, they received OSSTF's support instead. Basically, OSSTF chose Liberal or NDP candidates to support - whoever was going to beat the Conservatives.

And that strategy worked. Enough seats went Liberal, and in some places some went NDP, and OSSTF managed to negotiate collective agreements successfully for a decade. 

But then the Liberals decided to take a sharp turn to the right. The tired government, mired in multiple scandals, took a gamble that attacking education workers and their decent working conditions would undercut the appeal of the Conservatives. It didn't work, but the government stuck to its guns and used Bill 115 to impose contracts on education workers anyways.

And now it's by-election time again, and the old "better a Liberal than a Conservative" mindset seems to prevail in OSSTF. I just don't get it.

I suppose it's a strategy born out by fear - but let's examine that fear. Hudak stands for a lot of things that would obviously be incredibly disastrous for public education and union rights. If he were to secure a majority government, he could cut programs and enact politics that will cause lasting harm to workers and students for years to come. Fighting back against such assaults would involve a campaign of the magnitude OSSTF hasn't engaged in in years. It would be a massive undertaking involving the mobilization of education workers province-wide. And it would be costly; OSSTF would drain its strike fund, and workers would most likely lose multiple days of pay through participating in "illegal" strikes or political protests. It would be hard, and there would be costs.

Who knows, maybe OSSTF's political action can avoid the inevitable and stave off a Conservative government for another decade. But what's the cost of a continued "Anything but Conservative" strategy, even if it's rewarded with more Liberal governments? 

The cost of such a strategy is saying that we are so frightened of the Conservatives that we will support the Liberals even after they use an illegal law to strip our contracts. Kathleen Wynne will understand that she can get away with such behaviour in the future and still enjoy our support. All she has to do is raise the spectre of a Conservative government, and we'll settle for wage cuts, stripped benefits, and the restriction of our right to strike. 

If you've followed my analysis so far, you're likely now asking something like, "Well, ok, the Liberals should be punished, and they should know that our support is conditional on things like respect for the collective bargaining process. But, what are we to do? If we don't support the Liberals, what do we do instead? How do we work to avoid a Hudak government?"

The answer to such questions is: "I don't know." I just want education workers to start having this discussion.  How do we take into account the threat of a Conservative government, while at the same time draw a line in the sand with the Liberals and let them know that they won't get our support until they respect our rights to collective bargaining?

Whatever we decide, and there will be different decisions across the province, I hope that education workers consider more than the fear of a Hudak government that might never come to be.

And at the end of the day, despite OSSTF's support, the Liberals may well lose in a future general election anyways. And then it'd be time to have a different discussion: how to resist a Conservative austerity agenda, rather than how to help enable a Liberal one.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Ken Coran's Liberal Candidacy

After hearing Ken Coran will be running as a Liberal in the upcoming by-election in London, I drafted a quick letter and got my fellow CWS teachers to sign it. I'm positive I could have got each staff member to sign it, had I not heard Coran's news on the last work day of the year.
-Andy Wilson
Teacher, Ottawa.


This morning we learned that Ken Coran will be running as a Liberal candidate in the upcoming by-election in London. I can't express in words how angry I am, and how betrayed I feel.

It now appears that while OSSTF members were attending rallies far and wide, withdrawing from voluntary services, and even engaging in limited strike action to fight for our collective bargaining rights, Ken Coran was more concerned with delivering his members to the Liberal government in order to ensure he had a position in the party when his term with OSSTF was over.

I can only hope that OSSTF PE learns from the recent past: having a close relationship with the Liberal Party is no assurance that our collective bargaining rights will be respected. We need to send a message during the upcoming by-elections that messing with OSSTF has a cost; at the very least no support, official or otherwise, should be given to any Liberal Party candidate in the upcoming elections.

After weathering contract strips, and now feelings of utter betrayal, it is now more important than ever to demonstrate to OSSTF's members that their resistance to attacks on collective bargaining rights matter. A public statement from PE expressing the widespread outrage at Ken's betrayal would be a good start.

Nepean High School CWS Department

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!

Friday, March 8, 2013

ExtraCurricular Activities: the Straw Man No One Wants to Confront

by Phil Allt

There are many issues associated with teachers withholding extra curricular activities as a protest against the Ontario government violating the principles of free collective bargaining:

- Ontario Secondary School Teacher President Ken Coran’s correct assertion about who will resume these activities (20%), who won’t (20%) and those who are in the mushy middle (60% or most teachers);
- the less than 100 percent of students who partake in these activities less than 100 percent of the time. No one can precisely, or even “guesstimate”, the number of students who actually engage in extra curricular activities throughout the year. The reason? No one wants to find out the answer;
- the exorbitant cost for activities that is incurred by the families of those who can afford them (for example playing hockey at many schools can cost upward of 200 dollars per season and then there is football, basketball, rugby, swimming and the list goes on;
- the exorbitant cost of these activities that cannot be afforded by most families in Ontario;

are but a few of the concerns that should be taken seriously.

But there is another issue too and that is the elephant in the room. Should music, art, drama, physical education and lifestyle clubs be extra curricular activities at all? Should these not be part of a curriculum that is fully supported through taxation? Should these activities be taught by properly qualified teachers staff in classrooms, on playing fields and elsewhere?

Teachers who believe that extra curricular activities are just that, are missing a great opportunity to press for full funding for education. Similarly the hue and cry that is heard from those demanding more after school activities should be replaced with a demand for fully funding of all activities within the school - funding that was always inadequate but was chopped years ago by the Conservatives and never restored by the Liberals.

If those skills that are developed by children partaking in extra curricular activities are so important, why are these not part of a full curriculum? 

Why do high school students not have 4 mandatory years of arts and 4 mandatory years of physical and lifestyle education where musical appreciation is developed and respect for healthy living is promoted? The answer is quite simple: Ontario as a culture is too cheap to pay for the things we regard as superfluous to training for a job.

I do not think that I am alone in wanting physical education restored and properly funded. I also want art and music appreciation and education made mandatory in all schools and provision made for musical instruments in all schools. As a culture it is morally repugnant to require poor kids to rely upon the “kindness of strangers” i.e. welfare, donations and school vouchers to have the chance to learn an instrument or play a sport. 

Sure, many can coach the well-to-do kid who can afford the extra curricular fees - I, for one, am a certified rugby coach - whatever that means. I am, however, not certain that I am doing a good job anymore and my certification attests to that - 2 weekend courses with the National Coaching Certification Programme - 20 years ago.

A well skilled athlete or musician might be better at the job than many of those who currently coach out of altruism and pressure from inside the school. Furthermore, we are not helping the kid who cannot afford even the shoes to play a sport (and as I write, I am looking at the desk where sits a student who cannot afford athletic shoes). I wonder what will happen to students like him who do not have someone to buy athletic equipment for them, pay their participation fees and maybe even buy them the food they often do not have to eat.

Sadly, we do not want to pay to hire a person with the skills to properly promote music, the arts or athletics. We do not want to make the activities that are lost to better off kids universally accessible. We do not wish for excellence in arts or athletics - we merely want cheap childcare and cheap extra school activities to fill the gap before parents get home for supper. Hence we rely upon volunteers and coercion within the schools in order to offer playtime opportunities to kids.

Until we fund arts and athletics appropriately, teachers, politicians, boards of education and parents are making hollow arguments about the merits of restoring extra curricular activities for which Ontario does not wish to pay. Please, do not tell me it’s about the kids. Its about a province being cheap.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


by Jeff Kanter, a secondary teacher in Ottawa.

Many people are just now beginning to understand and perhaps even recognize
that the simple truth of the matter is that the public at large has had it pretty good
for pretty long. There has been a significantly uninterrupted period of time in which
extra curricular activities have been freely and widely offered.

And now that there has been a withdrawl of this no cost, overtime-equivalent by
teachers who provide thousands and thousands of hours of their time in order
for these activities to exist and flourish, reactions within the public, fanned by a
consistently unsympathetic media, have been very noticeable.

Perhaps some of those who are most vocal in their attacks on teachers for simply
having all those weeks and weeks off in the summer (never mind that teachers
do not set the instructional schedule) might wish to rethink their invective. If a
summer represents 40 work days, then those 320 hours pale by comparison to the
number of hours many teachers contribute to after school voluntary activities.

Perhaps saner heads could call that one a trade off? That is somewhat optimistic,
I am afraid: someone nursing an anti-teacher grudge could surely manufacture
some form of disagreement. But if that person is you, consider this: what other
professional offers such extensive, daily, year long services (with some pretty damn
fine results, to boot) gratis?

And if you are going to start that nonsense about making extra curriculars a
part of teachers’ job descriptions, hold it right there. To even suggest it is just a
contradiction in terms as well as an affront to logic, reason, and common sense.
It would mean the beginning of the end for any value to be derived from extra
curricular activities. And that suggestion is offered not out of anger or rancor, but
rather with sadness.

It would be a sad situation indeed if it were ever to come to that. The very idea has
nothing to do with ensuring meaningful after school programs and activities, but
is a transparent attempt to simply make sure teachers could never take the kind of
“pause” which is happening right now, ever again. How does creating a scenario in
which teachers are forced to coach or direct plays (never mind the skill set required
for those endeavours) benefit students? Or, better yet, what about an unprincipled
principal who, for whatever set of reasons, ends up requiring a science teacher
without any arts’ background (sorry for the possible stereotype) to do that year’s
school play?

The only logical and reasonable scenario is one in which teachers freely –in the
fullest cents of the word – give time that they could otherwise be using for marking
and prep and, damn it, even relaxation, for coaching and supervising teams, and
running art shows and music nights and drama productions and improve teams and

debating clubs and yearbooks and the dozens of other initiatives that get so easily
lumped into the impressive array of things falling under the heading extra curricular

There is too much focus on the teachers’ taking their pause from the voluntary
activities and not nearly enough on their reasons for it.

It is a classic case of putting way too much emphasis on the wrong part of an
issue. For example, in the recent G20 riots in Toronto, there was considerably less
attention paid to the dull drab illegality of vandalism and destruction of private
property in the face of what was more likely to sell: the sexiness of mass arrests and
the hint of police excesses.

Fueled by media, our attention is constantly aimed at unions and the consequences
of union leaders’ actions and decisions – when all they are really doing is fulfilling
their mandate (looking after their members). This in itself is rapidly becoming akin
to criminal activity – part of a thinly veiled government strategy to discredit unions
in general.

This hyper focus uses misdirection to muddy the issue unnecessarily, with the
result that the real villain of the piece escapes the full impact of journalistic and
public wrath. The crisis was caused, created, enhanced, perpetuated, sustained, and
then totally misplayed by the provincial government. And then, right on cue, the
provincial Conservatives added to this mess by pursuing its own extreme policies.

Let’s deal with the cause and not just the symptom. Teachers took a pause from
voluntary activities when their bargaining rights were eliminated and “contracts”
were imposed. This cannot be just overlooked, which is the all too often theme
of journalists who, despite the fact that they pay that little fact lip service, want
to just overlook it. Yeah, we know (these journalists seem to be saying) that the
government messed up but hey, let’s all just get past that and move on.

That is more easily said than done. Teachers cannot simply overlook that rather
huge departure from democratically accepted processes – nor should they have to!
As so many teachers have clearly indicated, they will be happy to return to business
as usual on their side when the government is ready to negotiate instead of dictate.

And that does not automatically mean that teachers are after unreasonable raises
and unrealistic benefits. On the other hand, they wish to avoid having to endure pay
CUTS and the slashing of benefits negotiated over years and years.

Bill 115 turned a potentially unpleasant situation into an actual crisis. To suggest
that teachers could have done “something else” to express their sense of outrage
is just plain stupid. The legal recourse favoured by some columnists and MPPs
could easily take, by conservative standards, three or four years. Why not make
the suggestion that, given the significant opportunity provided by Mr McGuinty’s
sudden resignation, Ms Broten could have done something else?

There would have no point in the teachers choosing a reaction strategy that had
no impact. A serious abuse requires a serious response. Anything less would have
been pointless. Anything less would have pretty much ended the crisis with full
blown teacher capitulation.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Education Workers Need Collective Action Against Attacks
by Jeff Kanter, secondary teacher in Ottawa.

Here’s a thought: how about the leaders of OSSTF and ETFO sit down with each
other and come up with a collective, cooperative, collaborative, and united course of

The most effective weapon teachers have –unified action – was seriously weakened
months ago when OECTA leaders caved in to governmental pressure and accepted,
without permitting a vote by membership, the now infamous MoU. In spite of this
setback, the elementary and secondary panels of the public system seemed to be on
the same page moving forward. Now, that has suddenly changed, as the nightmare
has become a dream.

A dream for the new Liberal minority government: dissension among the teachers’
ranks. OSSTF has inexplicably caved in to provincial pressure and has supported a
return to voluntary activities for teachers while getting absolutely nothing in return
for these teachers other than vague notions of continuing to have meaningful and
polite dialogue. What the hell does that mean?

OSSTF members have been sent emails which have been long on word count but
short on substance. According to a recent communiqué members received, OSSTF
was partially responsible for Mr McGuinty’s decision to resign as well as Ms Broten’s
decision to not seek the Liberal leadership. At least there was no claim about
the discovery of fire but then again, I may have gotten bogged down and stopped
reading too soon.

Meetings are happening at secondary schools, as union leaders and their
representatives will be surely asked many pointed questions beginning with words
like “what” and “why”. Hopefully, their answers will be substantive.

In the meantime, the media is already starting to have a field day with OSSTF saying
yes and ETFO saying no to the government’s suggestion that everybody just go back
to business as usual without anything other than the government’s intention to be
nicer in the future.

Take, for example, the nonsense spewing forth on the OTTAWA SUN editorial page
today. It is sad that people in positions of influence write this kind of garbage; it
is worse that people who are then easily influenced read it; it is then essential that
Somebody respond to it and try to inject some common sense into what is rapidly b
becoming the problem that just won’t go away.

The editorial is entitled: “ETFO stamps its tiny feet, again” and begins by referring
to its members as “crybabies” who are having a tantrum. Can’t the staff writers
who work at that publication get over that tired metaphor? If there is ANY infantile
perspective in the present situation, it is being exhibited by a government expecting

professionals who have been wronged and mistreated to simply drop all resistance
and give in because Mommy Premier (is it too early to do that?) asks them to do so?
That is far more pathetic than a measured response from ETFO to a ridiculous
proposal from the government.

Now that there has been a change in leadership, there needs to be some real
leadership displayed.

Leadership is more than repeating the suggestion that teachers are valued. In light
of months of abuse at the hands of the McGuinty government, to simply change the
tone, while a significant first step, is simply not enough. Nor should ANYONE, Sun
editorial writers included, overlook this.

Instead, the editorial goes on to paint a picture of Ms Wynne, described as “ETFO’s
spiritual soul mate” repeating the mantra, “ad nauseam…how wonderful teachers
are…About how she’d practically stand on her head and spit nickels if teachers
would only restore extra-curriculars”.

What the government is, uh, ‘offering’ is NOTHING other than the repetition of
the hope that everybody talks nicely to each other from now on although the
imposed ‘contracts’ will not be torn up.

If THAT deserves the spitting nickels visual, its author has a bright future selling
snow to Inuit.

Teachers are paid appropriately. This is only because their union representatives
have fought and negotiated in collective bargaining – something th has now come
under attack. It is becoming tiresome to have to constantly rationalize –to those
who have no clue about the demands of the work – things like those pesky summer
holidays and all those other breaks. That is not the issue here, even though it
somehow gets mentioned yet again in this vacuous editorial.

I have been trying to be a teacher for almost 40 years. Uh, I think I have a pretty
damn good idea about the “real world” as I juggle payments and responsibilities and
the demands of family dynamics and economic challenges. So, to the author of this
piece, stop whining about how my working schedule is structured and maybe you
could try a fresh, new approach…one that actually addresses that ‘real world’ you
seem to embrace.

To assess the unconscionable submission by OECTA several months ago as laudable
would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. Calling that disgraceful abandonment
of the collective bargaining process a creditable decision borders on disgusting,
because it implies that an actual agreement was reached. Nope. Didn’t happen.
Instead, the government screamed JUMP and OECTA’s leadership responded by
asking how long it should remain in the air.

OSSTF has NOT simply restored extra curriculars. And to reduce ETFO’s reaction
to a tantrum trivializes rather than enlightens. Of course, without that tired picture
of teachers acting like the children that this writer obviously thinks they are, there
would not have been that oh so snappy riproste of an ending. If this journalist/
editor wants to contribute to a significant situation, fine. A careful reading of the
piece, however, clearly argues this is not the case.

The crisis in education is not going to disappear just because a new premier and a
new minister would like that. And it certainly is not going to improve with the kind
of editorial nonsense that all too often graces the pages of the OTTAWA SUN.

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.

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.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The view from the board

FEB 8/13
by Jeff Kanter

It has been less than a week since the previous segment was completed, during
which things have been suspiciously quiet. Naturally, the premier designate is busy
putting together her new cabinet, as many of the previous rats continue to abandon
a ship, which if not sinking outright, is certainly taking on prodigious amounts of

Not that nothing has been going on: the director of education at OCDSB sent out
a very interesting letter to teachers, basically saying “hey guys, the legislation is
in place, not everyone may like it but that’s just the way it goes, let’s all just forget
about all that previous nastiness and get back to our extra curriculars, that’s what a
nice group of dedicated professionals should do, yes? Ok? Please?”.

The Real Issue comes out later in the letter. As we move towards that time of year
when students and their parents make decisions for the upcoming school year, the
director’s missive takes on a decidedly desperate and threatening tone: there is
going to be a massive migration from the public system to the separate system if
teachers don’t go back to providing voluntary services.

First of all, as the response from OSSTF leadership indicated, most of the declines
in student population were already predicted and predicated upon other criteria.
Secondly, even if that were not the case, to now try to shift blame/focus/attention
regarding That Issue onto the teachers is unconscionable.

Boards of education have been reduced to near irrelevance by Bill 115 (even
though it be officially repealed). To see their leaders immerse themselves in the
prolongation of the problem rather than the seeking of solution is a shame.

The entire issue was created and sustained by the provincial government under the
previous premier (again, the name escapes me at the moment). The emergence of a
new premier signifies the possibility and potential for repair. Directors of education
can certainly help to move this process along by lending their voices in support
of their most valuable resource: teachers (students are not the resource; they are
the raw materials). Declining enrolment? Nah. Declining influence perhaps, by an
individual whose salary and perks and severance package would appear off the
scale to a mere teacher. Even the city councilors just got a nice raise – maybe not as
much as the most recent OCTranspo contract gave to its drivers, but still.

Wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Jeff Kanter is a secondary teacher in Ottawa.

Wynne win or Wynne lose?

"Wynne win or Wynne lose?" by Jeff Kanter

Interesting how, in some of her opening remarks about the mess in education she
inherited from her predecessor (and helped to create by supporting Bill 115),
Kathleen Wynne immediately made reference to the need to get extra curriculars
happening again – as if THAT is the whole problem.

Because the problem is not extra curricular activities. There are those in the media
and in the government who are content to encourage the implication that, all of a
sudden, those mean evil wicked rotten nasty lousy greedy union leaders told their
likewise members to, without provocation, withdraw voluntary activities.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is about what the government did to create a scenario in which the only
available option for teachers was to “take a pause” from the thousands of hours of
such endeavors.

Therefore, when Ms Wynne speaks about dealing with the extra curricular issue,
she also ought to be making reference to the Bill which created it (a bill which she
supported). She cannot speak of extra curricular activities in a vacuum.

It is difficult to imagine a return to the provision of all those activities and programs
merely because the new premier wants them to resume. We have to remember, and
actually believe, that the teachers want them to resume as well.

She cannot simply request that teachers resume these without some kind of
indication that there will be a change. We are not talking about the kind of “caving
in to union/teacher demands” about which some consistently alarmist journalists
constantly carp.

The new premier is in a position to begin the process of repairing relations with a
profession which, regardless of one’s personal beliefs about its members, is such
an important one. To continue with the previous McGuinty approach would be
unthinkable. To suggest that huge raises are now in the works for teachers is just
plain stupidity. There has to be some kind of compromise available between those
two extremes. Compromises are reached by discussion and negotiation – not by
governmental imposition.

The idea that teachers can be rewarded for providing extra curricular activities
is merely an extension of the theory that any problem can be solved by throwing
money at it (and yes, even non financial rewards have been suggested). It will not
work. The ones who provide the best out of class experiences do this because
they want to – not for financial or any other sort of reward. To replace that time
honoured system by a potentially mercenary one, in which teachers who are

attracted by extra payments or fewer duties take over will surely reduce the quality
of those activities.

To even hint at making these programs a part of the job description shows an
alarming but not surprising lack of comprehension for the dynamics which go on in
schools each and every day. Attempting to solve the problem in this way will kill the
very program itself. It might have the potential of political expedience, but it also
has the inevitable futility of failure.

Politicians, with the echo of support from among the many experts from the media,
want this issue to go away. They want not only to get teachers back into their after
school work, but also to ensure that this ugly confrontation will never occur again.
Why not just legislate that the Leafs must win the Stanley Cup?

The only real solution lies with negotiation and discussion and compromise: that
is, collective bargaining. That is what the teachers have been calling for since this
whole mess began several months ago. Real collective bargaining does not mean
not recognizing the reality of the financial crisis in this province. The teachers are
aware of that. On the other hand, real collective bargaining does not mean being
treated the way they were by a government that seemed to want to make them into
a scapegoat for all financial woes – many of which were created by governmental
mismanagement in the first place.

That means taking some courageous steps. The government will have to figure
out what to do with Bill 115, the legislation that will not go away simply because
the McGuinty / Broten combo repealed it. This means accepting the potential step
of actually rescinding it. That, of course, will necessitate determining what kind
of status will exist while real collective bargaining resumes (ie what conditions
of work exist?). Teachers must be prepared to resume extra curricular activities
– recognizing that it would be pretty difficult to explain taking them away once
again…all of which puts a lot of pressure on both sides to get a deal done.

A wage freeze is one thing; a pay cut is something else. While one is acceptable, the
other poses problems: something for the negotiators to discuss. Harsh reductions
in benefits (particularly in a culture in which others not within the provincial
purview are getting raises) are a sticky issue: again, something for the discussers to

Empowering the government to disempower the unions from disciplinary measures
(which must be logical and reasonable) is at odds with the entire management/
labour continuum. The same union which provides so much support to a member in
need must also be able to deal with a member who does not adhere (a system which
political parties seem to embrace and practice).

Above all, all concerned must be more concerned with the passage of time. The
existing situation must be put clearly on the path to resolution now. It cannot be
allowed to carry over to the next school year.

Jeff Kanter is a secondary teacher in Ottawa.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

So now they want peace

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.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Response to Jerry Agar's “Teachers’ tantrum punishes kids”

“Teachers’ tantrum punishes kids”

Dear Mr Agar,

Your column cries out for response, reaction, and revision. Let’s start with your catchy title. It should not merely trot out tired old accusations, but should also include reference to at least one other side in this complex issue – how about “Government’s Rigid Intransigence Punishes Everyone”?

Your opening paragraph (which comes perilously close to being a run on sentence) presents the premise of a promise which was broken – by the teachers, of course, since no one else connected with this ongoing tragedy of errors ever ever does that sort of thing. We often attach another label to those who break promises: liars.

Then, having led your readers to make a connection between liar and teacher, you get to your real meaning (because, after all, when you look at this ongoing situation honestly, teachers have not lied at all – something which cannot be also said about some of the other parties involved): the sense of promise which usually accompanies the start of a school year.

Teachers made it very clear right from the beginning of the “negotiations”, when the government sent bankruptcy lawyers to present a set of absolute conditions, that despite this despotic and despicable governmental approach, their desire as well as their intention was to be in the classroom for the start of the school year. For that reason, strike related actions were cancelled well before school opening. Teachers made it clear that the threatened legislation was therefore not necessary, but that they could not and would not simply accept the elimination of collective bargaining.

The government chose to ignore this and to move ahead with its threatening agenda. By prematurely committing funding only at the levels consistent with a bill that had not even been passed yet (arrogance, under the banner of sound financial planning - something which the McGuinty government does not have any moral basis to claim), the provincial Liberals laid the groundwork for a major confrontation with OSSTF and ETFO.

This government was determined to bully instead of bargain. Perhaps there was a slight miscalculation concerning the resolve of the teachers, especially in light of the ease with which OECTA not only caved in to provincial pressure but also denied its own members the opportunity to ratify or reject.

The weight of this column’s righteous indignation is staggering. For some reason, teachers are deemed to be “teaching character” only if and when they submit. The argument to support the concept of lawfully standing up for beliefs as a means to oppose a bill so likely to be struck down that its very authors intend to repeal it as also a lesson in character is just as compelling.
And that is what the teachers are doing: opposing legally. The OLRB deemed the planned day of political protest to be strike action (in a ridiculously swift determination) – therefore, it was cancelled. Teachers are being admonished to pursue the legal option only. Many don’t have the 4 or so years such a legal process could take.

The actions of the teachers are in keeping with their legal job descriptions. If certain columnists don’t like that, their next column could be dedicated to suggesting that these laws be changed. Oh, wait a minute, no need: Mr Hudak is already talking up that angle.

Legislating job descriptions to include extra curricular activities will do serious damage to what has been such a wonderful part of the high school experience for so many years. The suggestion to pay teachers extra for extras will open up a can of worms which will make Pandora’s box look like an X-box.

Without a doubt, the withdrawing of extra curricular activities was a decision that was not taken easily, quickly, or lightly. There really were not a lot of other choices. Response options were very limited in the face of governmental intransigence.

Students’ responses have been wide and varied. Of course many of them are angry. And given the restrictions upon teachers regarding discussing the issue in the classroom, it is not surprising that some students feel teachers are taking it out on them. It is at this point that responsible journalists could contribute to the solution rather than fan the flames of the problem by producing fairer and more balanced articles.

Because to suggest that teachers are “mad at the world” is just plain silly. Teachers came to what was supposed to be a bargaining table with ideas and suggestions and options and a willingness to take up to a four year wage freeze. They were frozen alright – right out of the collective bargaining process. Facing a wage cut and slashed benefits, along with the loss of the right to collectively bargain, just does not qualify as being miffed at not getting “100% of what they wanted”.

Regarding the “reports that the teachers who are going back…are being shunned… by other teachers”, the truth is that “there are reports” about a lot of things. Negative press is sexier than the boring old positive stuff. There could just as easily be reference made to “reports” about the large number of teachers who are upset about the unfortunate need at this time to maintain the withdrawl of extra curricular activities. Obviously the reference to “too many teachers” is a tacit recognition of the fact that it is indeed the majority who are standing up to the government and behind the unions’ positions.

And calling teachers a “gaggle of greedy grasping wage earners” is somewhat like referring to certain SUN columnists as a den of dreary duplicitous word mongers.

Jeff Kanter
Secondary teacher

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Open letter to fellow teachers

Sometimes I find it hard to tell people what I think, especially if the discussion isn't a comfortable one. Using an open letter maybe isn’t as good as multiple face-to-face conversations, but writing does have its merits. There are two things I want to talk about: voluntary participation in the grade eight parent night, and the rally outside of the Liberal leadership convention in Toronto yesterday.

So first is the grade eight parent night. For those teachers, and especially department heads, who chose not to volunteer their time for what is obviously not a required part of the job: THANK YOU. It really means a lot to me that you chose to stand in solidarity with your fellow teachers and send a signal to everyone that you will not back down when our collective bargaining rights are suspended. I know you care about your programs and would rather participate in the information evening and connect with parents, and I know it wasn’t easy to resist pressure from administration to be there. Thank you for not breaking solidarity. For those teachers who did attend the grade 8 night: I don’t understand what you were thinking. I don’t think that participation is a necessary part of the job, and I think that breaking solidarity with your colleagues is short-sighted, selfish, and counter-productive. Sure, it feels good to sell our programs to parents and help administration put on a good show, and it’s easier to cave in to pressure from your boss than to resist, but what’s more important is taking a stand in solidarity with your colleagues. On the other hand, please don’t take my criticism too harshly. I will continue to support all members even if they break solidarity, and I’m more interested in building future solidarity than dwelling on past disagreements. I want to work together, rather than start to let disagreements divide our membership - but I can’t help but speak up when something is bothering me.

Next is the rally at the Liberal leadership convention in Toronto on January 26th. To those who gave up an entire Saturday to go to Toronto and back to participate in a massive protest in support of collective bargaining rights: THANK YOU! I can’t describe the feeling I had when I was surrounded by over 30,000 people demonstrating for workers’ rights. To those who didn’t come: why didn’t you? We had a great time! It was fun! Sure, we sat on a bus twice as long as we spent in Toronto demonstrating, but we had a good time! I got to meet a lot of people, have a lot of laughs, and I spent a few hours on a wonderful winter day in a park in downtown Toronto surrounded by union supporters (and, I even managed to mark a bunch of exams on the bus!). It was awesome. I know it’s hard to give up a weekend day during exams, and I know we all have reasons not to go, but I really missed many of my colleagues. I wish you were there on the bus with me. Like the last paragraph, I don’t want people to feel that I’m upset with them for not coming - sure I’m a bit disappointed, but I really just want to let you know that you were missed. It would have been better if you could have found the time to demonstrate with us.

That’s all I have to say for today! For those of you who went to the grade eight night, and/or decided to stay home instead of come out to protest with your fellow workers, I really hope you think about what effect your decisions have on the rest of us. It’s hard to keep up the fight for our rights when so many of us seem to want to do little more than sit on the sidelines. I need your support to continue to fight for our right to a negotiated contract, and I ask that you think hard about your decisions in the future.

In solidarity,

Andy Wilson.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sun's Future Less Than Sunny - For Teachers

This letter by Jeff Kanter, a secondary teacher in Ottawa, is a response to an Ottawa Sun editorial, dated January 22nd.

Here we go…another OTTAWA SUN editorial that screams out for response. And that is exactly the kind of reaction one is inclined to make after reading articles, columns, and editorials which appear in this publication.

The Jan 23 HUDAK SCHOOLS HIS OPPONENTS one is a hoot. In addition to having one of those oh so cutesy titles (for another example of that kind of trite bon mot, see title above), its main argument seems to be that the Progressive Conservatives are the only ones capable of ‘taking on’ the teachers’ unions.

The Liberals, it seems, will be ‘sucking up’ to the teacher unions because they will be so desperate to make up with these mean evil wicked rotten nasty union folks once a new leader is chosen. The editorial goes on to describe the past several months as a “lovers’ quarrel” (half right, except that only one of the two sides got screwed) and summarizes thusly: “…which imposed contracts, froze salaries and reduced some benefits.” Interesting choice of words. How about ‘which arbitrarily and summarily imposed working conditions (since, to my knowledge, nothing got signed, it cannot be called a contract), forced wage CUTS onto the teachers in the form of unpaid days, and SLASHED benefits’??

Our intrepid SUN editor is essentially claiming that only Mr Hudak’s party will raise itself above the groveling Liberals and NDP, who will both be trying to attract teacher support (insert: election funding). Given recent events, I am really really really trying to imagine what the new provincial Liberal leader could possibly say that would have any positive impact whatsoever on any teacher, other than he/she is going to actually repeal Bill 115 (not the phony grandstanding ploy being presently touted by Ms Broten and Mr McGuinty - you remember him, he used to have a role in the government?) and reinstate genuine collective bargaining; that sort of thing would actually grab the attention of just about every teacher here in the public sector of the province.

He goes on to claim that the Progressive Conservatives are advocating making report card writing and parent-teacher interviews mandatory. Honestly, dude, I cannot think of too many actual teachers who would actually have an actual problem with this. Ideally, it should not have to be legislated; traditionally, it has never gotten to the point where this has been an issue. It is only because of the present government’s unyielding irresponsible approach that what was always freely offered (ie the time for both of those practices) has had to be reconsidered.

But the real issue is, of course, those pesky extra curricular activities. These are completely voluntary; these countless hours, far and away much more time-consuming than report cards or interviews are available to students because of the fundamental good will and interest and commitment of teachers. Up until now, we have managed to avoid the trap of the American system, which has a complex and inconsistent method of compensation for teachers who provide these services.

Giving principals the power to reward teachers who do more in their schools has merit; unfortunately, it also establishes a framework in which to open up a potentially nasty can of worms, in which principals are then encouraged to pressure their teachers to take on all sorts of extras, something which younger teachers might obviously find difficult to refuse.

But I also state here and now that, as a teacher who has dedicated thousands of hours to extra curricular activities, I would never anticipate or expect extra compensation in exchange for this. In fact, I am uncomfortable with the idea. My motivation has always been desire. If any governing body were to suddenly and peremptorily decide that I HAD to do these activities, then it would become a very different matter.

The editorial inevitably returns to the big bad mean old teachers’ unions and especially their nasty rotten scoundrel leaders, who are being taken to task for basically doing their jobs. Union leaders are chosen by union members and are charged with the responsibility of advocating on their behalf. When governments (and their lackeys) enact horrific legislation that attempts to cripple what would otherwise be standard union actions along with eliminating the democratic rights of those unions’ members, there is going to be consequence.

The accusation that unions were going to fine members for non compliance with toeing the line is a murky issue, especially since that practice has not been strictly (or even loosely) applied. Leaders of organizations need SOME recourse to sanction recalcitrant members of their brother/sister hood. Why, it could even be suggested that political leaders have all sorts of little tricks and pressures to aim at individuals within their ranks who do not always toe the party line. And to suggest that the name and shame tactic is going to destroy the career of a teacher who is only “refusing to use his or her students as pawns in a labour dispute” is a moronic oversimplification, but that is an argument for another day.