Welcome back to a new year!
On behalf of the Communications and Political Action Committee of District 9, welcome back for a new year. Our committee has started this blog as a way to fulfill our mandate to keep members informed about political developments that concern them. Our goal is to provide information to help you navigate political developments so that you can participate at whatever level you are able, even if that just means reading this! Your comments and questions are welcome as well.
What to Look Out For
Our current contracts expire August 31, 2017. A provincial general election is schedule to take place in October of 2018. However, there are rumours that the date will be moved up to the spring of 2018, well before the contracts expire.
We also have a new Minister of Education, Mitzie Hunter. She is a new MPP and represents Scarborough Guildwood. She was first elected in a by-election in 2013. Prior to her position as Minister of Education she was Minister responsible for the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan that never got off the ground. That plan has now been rolled into an “enhancement” of the Canada Pension Plan that the Liberals federally are rolling out. We can assume Hunter knows something about pensions. It is also of note that she does not have a background in K-12 education; however she did an MBA at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, which no doubt affects her perspective on things. We will see what kind of change she brings to the table.
Bill 115: Negotiation Over a Remedy for the Violation of Our Rights
The ruling by the Ontario Superior Court which confirmed that the Ontario Government violated our fundamental freedoms in the whole Bill 115 fiasco set the tone for the summer. The judge held off issuing a remedy, leaving it to the affected unions and the government to arrive at one through negotiation, as requested by the unions. In his decision, however, the judge stated that even had our rights not been violated using Bill 115, if the government just listened and consulted more, the outcome might not have been any different. He also cautioned against coming up with “any substantial or overly aggressive remedy.” The intent of his comments seems to have been to influence the negotiations for the remedy as well as establish the starting point for the next round of collective bargaining by legitimizing the government’s demands for restraint. Either way the negotiation over a remedy, which is still ongoing, is important as it will set the tone for whatever happens next as we enter contract negotiations.
The Historical Imprint of Bill 115
Enver Villamizar – CPAC Chair
Bill 115 was passed by the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty along with the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario that was and still is the official opposition. The Bill gave the Minister of Education at the time, Laurel Broten arbitrary powers to impose new wages and working conditions on the province’s nearly 550,000 teachers and education workers, something that would directly affect millions of students’ learning conditions. It was a weapon of dictate instead of negotiation.
The government famously got the provincial negotiating team of the English Catholic Teachers Union to agree to a deal that had provisions in it that didn’t really affect their members but did affect other unions and their members. One of these was the elimination of post-retirement benefits and another was the ability to convert unused banked sick days to a retirement gratuity. The OECTA ”template” was then imposed by the government on all other unions without regard for their different circumstances .
The contracts that were imposed using Bill 115 cut sick days and ripped up the old arrangements for banking sick days to use for a longer term illness or, applying mainly to public board employees, to be paid out at retirement if they were not used. Many used their retirement gratuities to purchase post-retirement benefits.
Teachers and education workers across Ontario fought a tenacious battle to oppose this violation of rights and we were proven right in the courts. We were joined by tens of thousands of students and parents across the province who also publically opposed Bill 115 with walkouts, protests petitions and much more. Locally as a result of a door to door petition drive over 1,000 people signed a petition against the Bill in a very short period with a 98% signing rate. All of this culminated in a rally of 20,000 Ontarians outside of the Liberal Party’s convention where Wynne was selected as Premier. Our actions proved that standing up for your rights makes a difference. While we forced the “new” government to repeal the Bill, they refused to undo the damage the bill had caused, an injustice to be sure.
The effect of Bill 115 is still with us. Teachers’ withdrawal from extracurricular activities to show the public what was happening – something that deeply affected many of our members and students — was used by the government to get a ruling from the Labour Board that set a precedent: it declared the coordinated withdrawal of extracurricular (aka voluntary) activities constituted illegal strike action by teachers under the Education Act if it occurred when a collective agreement was in effect — even one imposed on us unconstitutionally by the government. This dangerous precedent is still there.
There are many other lasting effects from that period. Most significant is that we never accepted the violation of our rights and we are still standing and still have a lot of public support because our working conditions are students’ learning conditions.
Today both the Liberals and PCs want to claim that it’s all water under the bridge and that we have to look ahead. However they have yet to render account for their actions. In fact, most of the MPPs who voted for the Bill, including our Premier, still have their seats despite voting for legislation that violated fundamental freedoms of over half a million Ontarians. Only one, Teresa Piruzza, former Liberal MPP for Windsor West and a Cabinet Minister, lost her seat, at least in part because of her vote and support for that Bill. New PC leader Patrick Brown who was an MP in the Harper government at the time has also not apologized for his Party’s role in passing Bill 115.
We encourage members who went through that ordeal to educate our newer members about that history so that we are ready and strong in the coming round. Reports indicate the Liberals now claim they have “money” to spend to recognize the important work we do. But do they recognize our rights to negotiate our wages and working conditions freely without dictate, threats and ultimatums? Do they recognize the rights of Ontario’s students to the highest quality public education Ontario can provide? This will be the main issue going forward.
One thing is clear: the government is still haunted by the resistance of teachers and education workers to arbitrary dictate. They fear that the imprint of that fight will express itself again across the province and undermine their chances of staying in power and whatever plans they have in store for public education.
Labour Day 2016
The Student Achievement Awards
(courtesy of the OSSTF website) The Student Achievement Awards is a writing and creative arts competition which is open to all public secondary school students in Ontario. The competition is meant to encourage the intellectual development of our students and an interest in society. The 1984 Provincial Assembly established the awards in honour of Marion Drysdale, a secretary at OSSTF/FEESO Provincial Office for twenty-two years, for her dedicated work over so many years.
Each year a new theme is determined by the Recognition and Promotion Sub-Committee of the Communications/Political Action Committee.
OSSTF/FEESO invites student writers and artists to submit creative work exploring this year’s theme: #MirrorMirror. Judging will be held at the school, District, Regional and Provincial levels. Eight provincial winners will be awarded $1000 each in prizes and will be invited to our Annual General Meeting in March where a video showcasing their work will be screened.
Calling All Members to Join our Committee!
The District 9 Communications/Political action committee invites every member to join us on the following dates. No experience necessary, just a strong desire to have some fun and get involved in your union.
Monday October 24, 2016 – 5pm 547 Victoria Avenue Windsor, Ontario
Monday November 28, 2016 – 5pm 547 Victoria Avenue Windsor, Ontario
Monday December 19, 2016-5pm 547 Victoria Avenue, Windsor, Ontario