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Teachers' contract deadline looms

A local teachers' union president said he “can't really speculate” as to when Education Minister Laurel Broten will impose collective agreements on the province's teachers.
Roughly 800 Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) members abandoned their classrooms and hit the streets of downtown Sudbury Dec. 17 as part of the union's series of rotating one-day strikes. The ETFO said it will stop the rotating strikes if Education Minister Laurel Broten doesn't impose contracts on its members after Dec. 31. File photo.

A local teachers' union president said he “can't really speculate” as to when Education Minister Laurel Broten will impose collective agreements on the province's teachers.

James Clyke, president of Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) District 3 Rainbow, said he thinks the New Year's Eve deadline set out by the province was “always flexible.”

Under Bill 115, legislation passed by the government in September, the province gave local teachers' unions and school boards until Dec. 31 to negotiate collective agreements, after which it can impose deals.

The Toronto Star said in a Dec. 21 article that many expect Broten to start imposing deals as early as Jan. 2.

“If (Broten) actually does it on the deadline or shortly thereafter, I'm not exactly sure,” Clyke said. “I don't really know. I can't really speculate as to when she would do that.”

He said it would be wise for the government to wait until the new premier is chosen Jan. 27 before taking any more action.

“That person would need to take a look at how the relationship between the government and the (teachers' unions) is going,” Clyke said. “I would look at that as more of a real deadline.”

In a Dec. 21 statement, Broten urged the unions, including OSSTF and the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), to get back to the bargaining table and reach deals before Dec. 31.

“That's where those discussions need to take place, and there are still 10 more days for agreements to be reached,” she said.

Broten said the union has provincial agreements with 55,000 teachers and 4,000 support staff, and have seen almost 40 agreements reached at a local level.

ETFO said in its own Dec. 21 statement that it will cease rotating strikes and take no new strike action if Broten does not impose collective agreements after Dec. 31, with the offer extending until a new premier is chosen.

For its part, the OSSTF announced Dec. 21 that its members have voted in favour of conducting a one-day political protest to show their opposition to Bill 115. No date or locations for such a protest have yet been determined.

Within the Rainbow District School Board at least, it doesn't appear that any progress has been made on collective agreements lately, as neither the OSSTF nor the ETFO have met with the board over the holidays.

In fact, Clyke said his union hasn't negotiated with the Rainbow board since September. That's because the two sides reached an impasse, and OSSTF's provincial negotiators moved on to locals where a deal seemed more likely, he said.

Broten's optimism that more local deals could be reached before Dec. 31 is misplaced, Clyke said.

“When she goes to the press and says there's still time to come up with a local deal, that's just not true,” he said.

“We have 127 bargaining units across the province. We have one bargaining unit that has actually agreed to a collective bargaining agreement, and 126 haven't. I don't know where she thinks there's going to be time to get an agreement by then.”

ETFO Rainbow local president Barb Blasutti could not immediately be reached about the impending deadline. However, she did speak to Northern Life about the subject on Dec. 14.

Blasutti said her union has no plans to negotiate with the Rainbow board until the new year. The Rainbow board had made an offer to the union earlier in December, but she said it contained too many concessions to be accepted.

As for the Dec. 31 deadline, Blasutti said she wasn't sure what would happen after that date.

“We don't know what (Broten is) going to do,” she said. “What we hope she does is step out of the way and allow us to get back to bargaining at the local table.”

When she goes to the press and says there's still time to come up with a local deal, that's just not true.

James Clyke,
president of Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) District 3 Rainbow

Rainbow board director of education Norm Blaseg, who was also not immediately available for comment, told Northern Life Dec. 18 that he's waiting for a provincial announcement regarding teachers' contracts.

“What we do with our local agreements would be determined by (Broten's) announcement,” he said.

“We would suspect that she would probably say if you haven't reached an agreement, you will just extend our rollover from the previous collective agreement. We've been told it will be swift, whatever that means.”

Although several education workers' unions, including the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA), signed agreements with the province last summer, they were still left to negotiate local agreements with school boards.

The Dec. 31 deadline affects these unions as well.

Dan Charbonneau, president of the OECTA Sudbury secondary unit, said his local actually ratified a deal with the Sudbury Catholic District School Board Dec. 19.

He said only 59 per cent of his members voted in favour of the deal, as it's basically the same as their previous collective agreement, with the terms of Bill 115 appended.

Charbonneau said the union was able to negotiate some small “housekeeping” changes to the collective agreement's language.

But he said his elementary counterparts are at an impasse with the board.

The president of OECTA's Sudbury elementary unit, Kent MacNeill, could not immediately be reached for comment on the issue. Sudbury Catholic board director of education Catherine McCullough was also unavailable.

If they have a collective agreement imposed on them after Dec. 31, it would likely be similar to the secondary agreement, except they wouldn't have had a chance to make any “housekeeping” changes, Charbonneau said.

Although OECTA's provincial leaders signed an agreement with the province, local members are unhappy about how they've been treated, he said.

The union's provincial leaders negotiated away some benefits which have been in place in Sudbury for years, Charbonneau said.

This includes retiring teachers being able to use accumulated sick days for a payout and health benefits for retired teachers.

Charbonneau said he doesn't like how the province has been dealing with education workers recently, including his counterparts with OSSTF and ETFO.

“They used a sledgehammer to try to kill a fly,” he said. “Basically that was the wrong route. That's come to roost, now. It's an ugly situation for all parties. It's not good for government, teachers, or students.”

The Association des Enseignantes et des Enseignants Franco-Ontariens (AEFO), representing French public and Catholic teachers, also signed an agreement with the province last summer.

Local representatives of the union were not immediately available to speak to Northern Life.

However, Marcel Montpellier, president of Conseil scolaire catholique du nouvel-Ontario, said as far as he knows, no local agreements have been inked by AEFO anywhere in the province.

As for his school board, he said the two sides had been meeting, but negotiations broke down in early December. When asked what's going to happen after Dec. 31, Montpellier said he doesn't know.

“It's anybody's guess right now,” he said. “Obviously Minister Broten has the power to do things, but I'm not sure what their next move is going to be.”

Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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