By Doug Hallett
Education Minister Laurel Broten’s pledge to repeal Bill 115 by the end of January could eventually lead to improved relations with teachers, says the chair of the Upper Grand District School Board.
Repealing the education bill that was passed in September is “a step in the right direction to lay the groundwork for an improved collective bargaining process in 2014,” Mark Bailey said Thursday.
However, he said he was skeptical that repealing Bill 115 after using it to impose contracts on thousands of Ontario teachers, as Broten did Thursday, is “going to improve the tense situation” between teachers and the Ontario government.
“I don’t think repealing Bill 115 will make teachers any happier about the contract that was imposed on them today,” he said in an interview. However, it “opens up the opportunity for improved relations between teachers and the government as we look forward to the next round of bargaining in 2014.”
Broten’s promise to repeal the bill was received coldly by Doug Cook, president of the Upper Grand local of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.
“It’s clearly double-speak. Give me a break,” Cook said when asked about it.
Broten is “exercising the Draconian tactics under Bill 115” by imposing contracts, he said in an interview Thursday. And even though the bill will be repealed “in its paper form” by the end of the month, it will remain “in spirit and in practice,” he said. Passed in September by the Liberal government with support from Progressive Conservatives, Bill 115 gave the province the right to impose contracts if local deals weren’t reached by Dec. 31 – or if locally bargained contract agreements weren’t in line with the contents of the bill. The bill, which largely reflects a two-year deal reached in early July between the province and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, includes a wage freeze, sick-pay cutbacks and other measures.
In announcing Thursday that two-year contracts were being imposed on bargaining units that hadn’t reached deals with their local school boards by Dec. 31, Broten said that “any strike actions” taken from now until the contracts expire in August 2014 “will be illegal.”
Cook said this means the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario will have to end the work-to-rule strike action that it started late last year across the province. At the Upper Grand board, ETFO’s work-to-rule started on Dec. 3, soon after the local reached a legal strike position under Ontario’s Labour Relations Act.
ETFO’s work-to-rule included a union ban on teachers participating in any voluntary or extracurricular activities, as well as teachers withdrawing from a wide range of largely administrative duties.
While it appears this work-to-rule must stop, “the right to protest doesn’t come to an end,” Cook said.
Many ETFO members withdrew from extracurriculars on an individual basis to protest Bill 115 even before the organized work-to-rule started, and “we can legally go back to” this sort of individual protest by teachers, he said.
ETFO members at the Upper Grand board forfeited a day’s pay on Dec. 14 when they took part in a one-day walkout, which was part of a series of one-day walkouts held by ETFO in December across Ontario.
Asked whether there could be more one-day walkouts to protest the imposition of a contract on teachers, Cook said that while Broten might call it illegal, “we believe it is a right in a democracy.”
In 1997, all of Ontario’s unionized teachers left their classrooms for 10 days to picket and protest education legislation of the Progressive Conservative government led by Mike Harris, and this walkout wasn’t deemed to be illegal, he noted.
Cook said an online vote by ETFO members in early December resulted in 92 per cent voting in favour of a one-day walkout if Broten were to impose a contract. However, he said, ETFO won’t react to Broten’s imposition of a contract in a “knee-jerk” way. “There is a mandate (for another one-day walkout), but we will have to assess how best to go forward,” he said.
Broten said Thursday that she had approved all locally negotiated contracts that were ratified before Dec. 31. This includes an agreement reached by the Wellington Catholic District School Board and its teachers.
Bailey said it also includes a deal ratified in late November by the Upper Grand school board and local high school teachers represented by the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers’ Federation. This was the only contract ratified in 2012 at any public school board in Ontario.
Broten said she was giving 55,000 school support workers in over 100 bargaining units of the Canadian Union of Public Employees until Jan. 14 to ratify local contracts, based on a tentative deal that CUPE reached with the province in late December.
Bailey said that whatever happens now between the provincial government and the teachers’ unions, his board “will work with both parties to try to make the best of the situation.” The board understands that “resentment will remain” among teachers, Bailey said. However, “we hope and are optimistic that our teachers will do what is best for the students over the course of the next year.”
Paul Rawlinson, president of the teachers’ bargaining unit of the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers’ Federation, could not be reached for comment.