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Will Broten blink?

Education Minister Laurel Broten was expected to make an announcement at 10 a.m. today regarding the “government’s next steps to put students first” when it comes to its ongoing standoff with teachers and education workers.
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Public school teachers with the Rainbow District School Board filled the streets of downtown Sudbury Dec. 17, as part of provincewide rotating strike actions against Bill 115. Photo by Marg Seregelyi.
Education Minister Laurel Broten was expected to make an announcement at 10 a.m. today regarding the “government’s next steps to put students first” when it comes to its ongoing standoff with teachers and education workers.

The New Year’s Eve deadline for the province’s teachers and education workers to reach contracts with school boards has, obviously, come and gone with no deal in place.

Under the terms of the contentious Bill 115, the province has the power to impose contracts on workers now that the Dec. 31 deadline has passed. Broten has not yet said whether or not she will do so.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) and the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) have yet to sign deals with the province.

Even so, Broten encouraged the unions to work towards local agreements with school boards before the Dec. 31 deadline.

Within the Rainbow District School Board at least, no progress has been made on collective agreements lately, as neither the OSSTF nor the ETFO met with the board over the holidays.

The ETFO’s last meeting with the board was in mid-December, and the OSSTF hasn’t met with the board since November, when a meeting with a conciliator resulted in a no board report being issued.

Broten’s optimism that more local deals could be reached before Dec. 31 was misplaced, OSSTF District 3 Rainbow president James Clyke said in late December.

“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,” he said.

“I don’t know where she thinks there’s going to be time to get an agreement by then.”

The OSSTF and the Rainbow board actually reached an impasse in negotiations in September, and the union’s provincial negotiators moved on to locals where a deal was more likely, Clyke said.

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

“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 fact, Liberal leadership candidate Gerard Kennedy said during a Sudbury campaign stop that he would repeal the unpopular provisions in Bill 115 if he becomes premier.

ETFO Rainbow local president Barb Blasutti could not immediately be reached about the impending deadline. On Dec. 14, she said she wasn’t sure what would happen after Dec. 31.

“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.”

Rainbow board vice-chair Dena Morrison, who has been leading the board’s negotiations with the unions, said she doesn’t know what to expect from Broten’s announcement.

“There’s been so many mixed messages,” she said. “We’ll be watching to see what she says.”

Although several 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, told Northern Life his local 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. He said his elementary counterparts are at an impasse with the board.

The president of OECTA’s Sudbury elementary unit, Kent MacNeill, could not be reached for comment, nor could director of education, Catherine McCullough.
Although OECTA’s provincial leaders signed an agreement, local members are unhappy, Charbonneau said.

OECTA’s leaders negotiated away some benefits that have been in place in Sudbury for years, Charbonneau said, including the ability to use accumulated sick days for a payout and benefits for retired teachers.

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

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. As for his opinion on what direction Broten will take, Montpellier echoed his counterparts.

“It’s anybody’s guess right now,” he said.

Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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