Saturday, August 20, 2011

Treading softly into the writ drop

It was an interesting week watching and reading coverage from the proceedings at the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario's annual meeting. I did so mostly through Twitter along with the various media outlets' coverage of the different speakers throughout the week.
As usual, I was left in awe by Moira MacDonald's insightful analysis in a few columns throughout the week from the floor of the conference. The first spoke of how the union is treading softly, "talking softly," MacDonald said, heading into the pending provincial election.
There was no fist-pounding or pumping. Maybe gambling one too many times with the government — and losing — especially in its 2008 contract talks, has sobered the union up or taught it to be poker-faced.
At that time, combative previous president David Clegg (note, he’s not president anymore) headed a confusing campaign called “Close the Gap.”
It tried to put elementary teachers’ work conditions on par with high school teachers’, even though they’re two different jobs.
Great salary improvements, despite the 2008 global financial meltdown, were offered by the government, along with other perks.
But the union blew multiple government deadlines to achieve its demands and ended up with a 10.4% raise, not the 12.55% all other teachers got over the contract’s four years.
Instead of closing the gap, ETFO opened a new one between its members and others doing the same job.
Later in the week, she wrote about the awkwardness of Premier Dalton McGuinty's address to the union-- itself quite interesting. Other media outlets (here's the CBC's as an example) focused more on the messages in McGuinty's speech that fearmongered support for other parties. As far back as I can remember, the ETFO annual meeting has played host to education ministers and leaders of opposition parties, but this week was the first time McGuinty addressed the delegates and I can't remember Ernie Eves, Mike Harris or Bob Rae having done so.
There was nothing earth-shattering in McGuinty's address, as he tried to cozy up to the federation while indicating strong support for continuing the Education Quality and Accountability Office testing the union so abhors, as well as investments in full-day kindergarten.
Ontario PC Party leader Tim Hudak wasn't invited to address the convention, but did send out an open letter to Ontario's teachers on the last day. I have that letter on my work laptop and will upload and link it here soon.
Add to the mix my own conversation with re-appointed First VP Susan Swackhammer (a Brantford resident) and it'll be interesting to see the road ahead. Rather than reaching the usual volume of rhetoric coming out of the convention, the federation is lying low. No doubt it will invest its dollars in ads and such during the pending campaign, but there's no bold statement on what it wants from government.
If the federation is getting better at its political strategies, it would lie low during this campaign-- should there be a change in government, and it won't be to the NDP the delegates swooned over on the same morning McGuinty spoke, it's best to save energy for the battles that may lie ahead. Those with longer memories will remember that the teachers' federations abandonment of the Ontario NDP in 1995 because of their opposition to the so-called social contract bit back in a huge way.
Members understandably want their wage parity back. They should carefully consider how to achieve that given it's very tough to argue for it in this economic and political climate regardless of what party's leader is sworn in as premier after Oct. 6. Had a different government been in power these last seven years, it's quite easy to conclude ETFO would be a smaller union than it is today thanks to continued declining enrolment. It's not and in fact has sustained if not grown its membership.
Hopefully they've pondered that.