The latest on Ontario’s deal with public elementary teachers

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario 78,000 members began job action in May

Photograph by Andrew Tolson

Photograph by Andrew Tolson

TORONTO — Ontario reached tentative contract deals Monday with public elementary teachers as well as support staff in most schools, ending their work-to-rule campaigns.

The deals with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Canadian Union of Public Employees were the last major education sector agreements to be reached in a fraught and controversial round of bargaining under a new system.

But a deal still hasn’t been reached with education workers represented in some communities by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and because they are continuing their administrative strike, the government has given trustee associations power to dock the workers’ pay 10 per cent.

“Job action is negatively impacting our students,” Education Minister Liz Sandals said. “Schools have become increasingly dirty and we are increasingly concerned about the health, safety and well-being of our students.”

OSSTF president Paul Elliott said his union won’t “respond to threats.”

“Our support staff members have been without a contract for fourteen months and they will not cease any job sanctions until a tentative central deal has been reached,” he said in a statement.

The details of the ETFO and CUPE deals won’t be released until they are ratified, but Sandals said the major terms for elementary teachers, such as salary, are similar to those for English Catholic and public school teachers.

Those deals included raises of 1.5 per cent plus another one-per-cent bonus. And, like those deals, Sandals said these new agreements are net zero, meaning any salary increases are offset by savings elsewhere. The savings did not come at the expense of student programming, she said.

One major difference between the deals reached with ETFO and CUPE and the other unions is that these did not come with payments from the government to cover the unions’ negotiating expenses.

Sandals has defended the payments — $2.5 million this year — as being necessary because a new bargaining system made this round quite lengthy.

The government also paid some education unions a total of $1.24 million in 2008 and 2012, when transition to the new system began, including $461,000 to CUPE.

ETFO said it would not accept any such payment from the government and Sandals said each negotiation is different.

“I think when we were looking at the agreements earlier in the year, we were looking at reaching the first agreements and we were looking at avoiding strike action,” she said. “In this case we’ve had significant ongoing strike action and we’re not trying to stop it, so we’re dealing with a bit of a different circumstance.”

ETFO’s 78,000 members began job action in May, escalating their work-to-rule campaign near the beginning of the school year and again last month when they withdrew from extracurricular activities.

The teachers will now be preparing full progress reports, including comments, Sandals said.

The education minister and Premier Kathleen Wynne announced last month that members of ETFO, CUPE and OSSTF education workers on work-to-rule campaigns could have their pay docked. Sandals said she believes that helped move negotiations with ETFO and CUPE along.

“I think they did come to understand as the weekend and the day-to-day unfolded that we actually were serious about giving consent in the event we didn’t reach deals,” she said. “That certainly facilitated people concentrating and getting down to the deals.”

Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown suggested the Liberals never meant to follow through with their threat to dock teachers’ pay because they first raised it to try to quell controversy over the union payments.

“I thought that was simply a show and a distraction,” he said.

This was the first round of negotiations under the Liberals’ new two-tier bargaining system, with separate central and local talks. Earlier in the year there were local strikes by high school teachers in three boards, which the Ontario Labour Relations Board ultimately ruled illegal.



The latest on Ontario’s deal with public elementary teachers

  1. This entire issue illustrates the fundamental flaw inherent in a unionized public sector, namely the complete lack of the ability of the tax payers to use the very market forces being used against them to impose reactive market force on the deals being imposed upon the taxpayers. The taxpayers have no recourse.
    This is compounded by public sector activism which has them contributing both large sums of cash and contributions in kind to those political parties most likely to fork over the most cash. In this case we have a union that contributed millions to the Ontario Libranos being reimbursed, by the very party they were supposedly bargaining with, an amount suspiciously similar to the amounts contributed to their election. Not too far from here, that’s called racketeering, and people go to jail for a long time for it.
    The central point, though, is the serious injustice imparted by giving public sector workers the right to strike. For one thing, it essentially takes the fiscal authority of the elected legislature and makes that authority secondary to that of the unions which are not elected by nor bound by the wishes of the broader electorate. Taxpayers have no recourse when monopolized public services are withheld by an intransigent Union bargaining position. The taxpayers are obligated, by force if necessary, to continue to pay taxes even when services are not being rendered and are subsequently obligated by the same threat of state violence to pay the increased taxes that come about from such job action, even if the services provided have become priced far and above what most would consider fair market value.
    In the private sector world, job actions that lead to cost increases that must be borne by the customers via voluntary transactions, are always tempered by the forces of the marketplace. Price and service competition are omnipresent to both employers and employees in the private sector, but are wholly absent in the public. Yet, we are told that the rights of public sector workers to use the very market forces that don’t apply to them against the tax-obligated public must be held sacrosanct, justice and fairness be damned.
    When you compound this with a legislative body that abandons any pretence of fiduciary responsibility towards the public treasury by using confiscated funds to help facilitate a stronger bargaining position of the Union that they were supposedly bargaining with, there is only one outcome for the public; the renewed erosion of the rights of the citizen to keep a significant portion of what they earn for themselves and their families in the face of a diligent and determined state that seeks to increase its confiscatory reach.
    If I were an Ontario taxpayer, I would have filed a police complaint of criminal corruption a week ago when this story first came to light.

    • I agree that it makes no sense to consider public sector and private sector unions to be the same creatures, for the reasons given above. IMO a system of binding arbitration with very well defined parameters should replace negotiation in the public sector. One of those parameters should be ability to pay, and that should be based on the growth (or not) of gross regional product. In other words, increases in public sector remuneration should be directly tied to economic growth (which is what fuels increased tax revenue). Holding the hapless citizen hostage by denying him/her services that he/she is paying for with taxes is just ludicrous.

      And, it goes without saying that corporate and union donations to provincial parties should be banned. And corporate and union advertising during a political campaign should be banned or severely limited.

      My 2 cents.

      • You’re exactly right, Jim. The rate of growth of the public payroll should be directly tied to the growth in revenues derived solely from market forces, just as it is in the private sector. Just doing this alone would almost completely eliminate inflation.
        The single largest factor that has put a cap on the growth of middle class incomes in the last several decades is that the cost of government has outpaced the massive productivity growth that the private sector has delivered over that same time period.
        Any intelligent person who has done even a modicum of research will know that the major driving factor of inflation has been the rise in cost of government payrolls, unearned increases in taxation, and over-regulation INCLUDING regulations that often act at cross purposes to the aims of other regulations.

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