Friday, July 27, 2012

Unsure where the pressure lies

I read the Globe's piece earlier this week, interested to see the reference to the so-called B-memo to school boards on bargaining.
The Globe says:
The memo suggests that school boards could be facing a provincial takeover if they do not sign teacher contracts within the next six weeks, consequences a government spokesman would neither confirm nor deny.
However, having read the memo (and possible the Globe got a different version), I don't see what's there to be so bold as to say cabinet is ready over the order paper to start taking control of school boards.
From the memo, also quoted by the Globe:
In addition to being balanced, budgets must be financially sustainable over the longer term. This means local bargaining outcomes must align with the provincial funding framework.
Concluding local bargaining outcomes outside the terms of the provincial funding framework would raise concerns about a board's ability to meet its financial obligations, at which point the Minister could (my emphasis) decide to exercise her powers as set out in the Education Act, to put the board on more sustainable footing.
Nor do I see the memo suggesting the boards have their collective agreements signed before the start of the school year. I do see reference to ensuring the school year starts and continues, which to me is more of a suggestion that boards not lock out their employees. They're asked to advise on the status of negotiations by Aug. 1, but there's nothing in the memo saying the deals have to be signed before the beginning of the school year.
If anything, this memo is a shot across the federations' bow, in addition to a warning to school boards.
The province pays you. They fund you. Don't break the bounds of the funding rules they've laid out for you. Federations choosing (this time, with concessions on the table) not to engage in the discussion table process and solely engaging in local bargaining hope to outmuscle school boards many of whom cannot hope to match the federations' co-ordinated approach.
(As I mentioned in a comment earlier, funny the federations without agreements are all pissy this time with concessions on the table. They didn't seem to have those issues when the cash was flowing freely at the discussion tables in the last two rounds.)
For boards that might consider taking money out of provincial funding envelopes to cover items their unions want and the province isn't funding, this memo sets it out clearly-- fund above what we set out at your own risk.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

This government likes to talk

As a followup to the last post on the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) memorandum of understanding (MOU) comes news the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSFT) and the French-language teachers' union have re-entered discussions with the government.
Only the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and those in the sector represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) maintain their decision to walk away from the provincial discussion tables. One hopes the ETFO membership has not forgotten they lost wage parity in the 2008-12 contract because of the stubbornness of their provincial executive and that this dynamic doesn't happen again.
Over the almost nine years this government has been in office, it's proven a few things in how it talks and the actions that follow.
The Liberals like to talk. They float trial balloons like there's no tomorrow. They have a particular penchant for governing by regulation-- meaning they can say all sorts of things when the legislation is on the floor at Queen's Park but then change tone quite dramatically by the time regulations are approved by cabinet and published in the Gazette.
They like to talk tough. No more of this. So much for that.
But in the last round of tough talk, as arbitration agreements started stacking up against their attempts to implement freezes and clawbacks in some part of the broader public sector, they backed down and compromised. The opposition, as is its right, seized upon these eventual agreements as signs the Liberals are too soft, don't have the turpitude to govern, etc.
Kudos to OECTA for staying at the PDT. Just like it did for the 2008-12 contracts, the federation realized it had more to gain by continuing discussions than by huffing and guffawing to itself in the corner. The MOU is the result, with clauses that will likely see any improved items in other agreements fall into its lap as well.
I don't buy the suggestion tying the willingness to keep discussions moving to suggestions in QMI papers and elsewhere the union did so because of negative reaction to Catholic school boards' positions on Bill 13 and gay-straight alliances. Particularly since OECTA proudly stated its own members supported the legislation and the label. Or the notion that being the first to ink an MOU was aimed at sustaining the publicly funded Catholic school system in Ontario-- those teachers would still teach under a single system, even if they had different representation and different employers. The Bill 13 and single-system issues are ones for trustees and bishops, not the rank-and-file who benefit from this deal.
Returning to my main point, those who continue to talk to this government get agreements. Agreements where the government moves from its publicly stated objectives and directives. This has been proven time and again, with the government being patient enough to wait for everyone to come back to the table.
ETFO lost in the last round because it held out trying to punish or make a point against the government. It's convinced it can do so again. The others, while as bold on that podium on July 6, seem to realize there's always value in going back to the table.
This government likes to talk-- and those who keep talking with it tend to reach a deal.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Labouring through the summer

What a fascinating week in labour relations for the K-12 educational sector in Ontario.
The memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreement between the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) and the province, available here and embedded below thanks to the Globe and Mail, is a scintillating read.
There are a few things that were glossed over in the rush to publish on the deal, the July 5 announcement and the July 6 reaction from the other federations and unions that are part of the sector. That reporting focused on wage freezes, unpaid professional development days and the like. I'd like to point out other stuff, 'cause that's what this space is kinda supposed to be about.
  • Some were reporting the few Catholic teachers who still have retirement gratuities would lose them as they've been cancelled. Indeed they have, from Sept. 1 onwards. But on Sept. 1, any unpaid days up to the max allowed in each local agreement are vested. Once vested and the teacher retires, those days will be paid out. This does not eliminate the long-term liability to school boards and by extension the government, but it does prevent it from growing.
  • The bigger, more substantial changes to long-term and short-term disability plans beyond the annual sick days are subject to a further agreement between the Ontario Teachers' Federation and the government. Given how, uh, welcoming the others were to this MOU, that'll be a big hill to climb.
  • Post-retirement benefits change effective Sept. 1, 2013, with retirees separated into their own experience pool for which they alone will cover costs of coverage. This is a key concession, though I'm unaware of its dollar value -- one that will likely lower experience ratings and benefit payments for working teachers.
  • My read on the unpaid PD days? They're to come from the existing allotment of days on the calendars as already submitted to the ministry.
  • Funding for individual PD for elementary teachers and expansion of secondary programming (the latter referenced in the 2008-12 provincial discussion table agreements) is gone.
  • Classroom teachers retain the individual right to choose assessment tools, providing they fit within the scope of the (yet unreleased) policy and program memorandum on the "effective use of diagnostic assessments."
  • Without knowing the conditions of individual collective agreements and the PDTs from 2008-12 on how occasional teachers move up grids and compete for placements and full-time, permanent contracts, I can't determine whether the portions of the MOU here are that different from existing practice.
  • This MOU does include a "me too" clause for any other agreements the province signs in the sector-- meaning that as long as OECTA and Catholic boards follow their MOU, they'll also be able to benefit from other agreements. That same section also notes that all school board employees are to be covered by the wage freeze put in place by the government.
  • My favourite section of the entire document, given by Twitter griping Friday-- "consultations... to develop the appropriate legislative and regulatory framework for provincial bargaining that would, if approved by the legislature, take effect Jan. 1, 2014."
Thank god, pun intended, the province is being honest about its intentions when it comes to bargaining. The money to fund every one of the agreements with the 72 publicly funded school boards in Ontario comes from one source -- the provincial government. Since 1998, the federations have always had the upper hand with district school boards in negotiations. No one with a sane mind can claim that a union with a provincial table officer present is in any way equivalent to a school board. The unions have been conducting provincial bargaining since 1998 if not earlier and the public and Catholic school board trustees' associations are weak by comparison. A move to provincial bargaining simply recognizes the reality that school boards aren't power players in bargaining with sector workers and haven't been for 14 years.
This would also avoid the silliness of what the federations who walked away from the provincial discussions -- let's not forget they walked away as they await their invitation to return -- so they can bargain with their employer of record at the school board level. As though any board would agree to crap where it eats by agreeing to fund something the province isn't giving it money to cover. Most boards have enough of a challenge paying for the things the province provides funding to cover.
There's been plenty of reporting on the OECTA announcement, as well as the reaction the following day, much of it commendable since there are so few education reporters in Ontario. However, take the time to read the MOU for yourself. Linked above, embedded below.
PDF Version MOU OECTA and Gov't of Ont Jul5-2 12