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


txwikinger said...

The "retirement gratuities" will still grow, just not in form of post-dated gratuities but in immediately taken sick days.

Teachers are in far bigger risk of getting sick (just behind health professionals) since they have to interact in close spaces with sick children all the time. Without the gratuities, they will not wait to the weekend to cure themselves, but just take the day off when they feel sick.

The reduction of PD days is very detrimental to the education system. The teachers will just stay home at those unpaid days and there will be no time for necessary professional development. Ontario is becoming more and more diverse and professional development to allow everybody to learn how to deal with the special challenges of these developments is absolutely essential. However, since there is no time for this, minority children and staff have to continue to learn and work in less than satisfactory situations. Nothing can be done to mitigate this without the necessary time it needs to train for it.

The grids are not very complicated. It is a two-dimensional matrix with one dimension being the number of years permanently employed and the other based on additional qualifications. Within 10 years a teacher reaches the maximum salary for experience. However, the starting point is very low. A first year teacher earns less than a cashier in a supermarket. This after year of study with the associated costs and often many years of part-time working as an occasional teacher until through long term contracts they can become permanent. Taking away these increases would mean that anybody thinking to study to become a teacher should rather look at a different profession and when the current lot of teachers retires, we would not have anybody educating our youth any more.

Just some facts to put the different issues in context.

Education Reporter said...

Unknown 21:24:

Couple of thoughts to your points.

I don't understand your logic on the loss of the gratuity meaning teachers "will not wait to the weekend to cure themselves, but just take the day off when they feel sick." So because they can bank the days and get paid out for them at retirement they choose to work while ill and recuperate on the weekend? And by losing the bankability they'll do what most people do and take the time to recuperate when it's actually needed instead of waiting until the weekend? There's a line I'm not following to understand that point.

When boards compile average sick-day stats, it's been shown teachers average somewhere between nine to 12 days a school year. The 10-day limit seems far closer to what's actually needed by the average teacher than paying out half of the 20/year allotment. Ten days over eight months is still quite generous, even with the increased exposure to the unwell that teachers experience.

I don't see a temporary loss of three (out of nine) days as being traumatic to the long-term success of the system. Plus, the ministry priority days and assessment days can't be amongst those three days.

I know the grids themselves are not complex, but they do differ slightly from board to board-- particularly on movement from occasional teaching to permanent contract positions. Given this section is a healthy part of the overall MOU, I didn't feel knowledgeable enough to comment on whether the MOU decreases it or leaves it substantially unchanged. I read references to the movement from OT to LTO to contract favouring younger teachers, but that really depends on someone consistently choosing to put younger teachers in the five-person "reserve" so to speak.

And careful on comparing wages. Teachers, even OTs, are well compensated. If I were to guess, I'd say your point was more that an OT getting few assignments in a year can have a tough go of it financially-- but the daily rates for OIs are FAR better than supermarket cashiers (who if they're unionized, make maybe $120 a day). OT dailies are higher than that. And for the lucky few who get full-time permanent contracts? In their first year they'll earn mid-30Ks-- which for a teacher with a B.A. and B.Ed. is a very good wage. Very, very few other B.A. grads with a one-year post-grad certificate/diploma/degree get a job that pays mid-30s in the very first year.

I'm afraid some of your points need a bit more context.


txwikinger said...

What I am saying in regards to the sick days is, without the banking of them, the motivation to take a sick day is a lot higher. When this agreement is just taken away, especially in form of dictate, there is no motivation to just churn on.

Surely, behaviour cannot be generalised and every individual is different, but I would expect, that the number of sick days taken will be far closer to the maximum in average than as you have stated around 50-60% at this time. And this will be immediate costs not rebated to 50%. I find it always counter-productive when incentives that motivate good behaviour are replaced with rules that reward bad behaviour. In fact, I believe that private businesses should look into this. However, a business would probably pay out a bonus at the end of the year, instead of at time of retirement, since such liabilities look far worth on the balance of a corporation than on a public service. Furthermore, there is far more risk of fraud as can be seen with a lot of underfunded retirement accounts in the private business world.

In any case, my point is more one of that a good incentive if destroyed because it is not something that is common everywhere. Instead of doing this, maybe other places should start to see the benefit of it.

Even if an occasional teacher has a higher daily rate, there are only less than 200 days per year available and even then work is not guaranteed. Even with avg 2 days a week an OT will earn less than minimum wage of a full time job. Because of this lots of very good OTs are lost for the education system because they work part-time in other jobs, which then have to be priority over teaching assignments and eventually they move to a permanent job in industry. Assuming too many unemployed teachers, this would not necessarily be bad. However, since OT assignments are often more based on connections and nepotism instead of quality of the teacher, this is a very concerning issue for the education system. I think every parent wants the best teachers to teach their children. And society should have the same goal since only with a good education system future competition on the world market is possible and future pensions can be paid.

In particular this also raises the issue that the teacher and administrator body is far less culturally and racially diverse than the student body. These are the places the education system needs reform in order to perform equally for all students.


txwikinger said...


30k is in a lot of Ontario not even the median salary. And a teacher with a B.A (or B.Sc) as well as a B.Ed has more likely than not a lot of debt in form of student loans. So, why should anybody who has the smarts to succeed at University choose to go into teaching when they have to carry around while people with similar education will start with 50-100% higher salaries. I do not advocate to raise the entry level salary. However, the grid must be seen inside the whole picture. Teachers do not have the flexibility and upward movement as are in the industry. They cannot even move from a permanent job in one district to a permanent job in another district, but again apply for the OT pool.

When comparisons are made with outside the system, all those restrictions are usually and naturally not understood. It is very common to assume that all unknown or lesser obvious issues are the same as oneself. And this is way IMHO the teachers are getting undeservedly a bad reputation.

As a parent, I would like to see a lot of things change that increase the performance of all students. Rewarding good teachers is one of the things that are missing. However, the general tenor in the press in Ontario, that teachers are greedy and do not deserve their current conditions is IMHO either born out of ignorance or out of political motives. In the end we all will lose together with the teachers when the result is that more and more students will not perform to their full potential.

And I want to stress again, that your article here is the best researched and most balanced one, I have seen in a long time. Beside your article almost everything I have read in the press about the current information is either very lazy reporting, misinformation and commentary with a political purpose.

Keep up the good work!

Education Reporter said...


Thanks for your kind words. I maintain teachers are fairly compensated for their experience and expertise. An OT only getting two days a week has little to do with their daily rate but rather the fact that B.Eds are licences to print money for teachers colleges and too many graduates then look to teach where few contract positions are available.

On the two-day-a-week thing, I would point out that yes, wages earned in only two days of work would be minimum if spread out over another five days of living-- but that teacher's daily rate for those two days is still quite good compared to two days' wages in other part-time work.

And yes, as you point out, 30k is below the median/midpoint and average wages for most communities in this province. But if you were to break that down and look at median and average *starting* wages, it's quite respectable. There are a lot arts grads who would kill for 30s coming straight out of school.

As to sick days? I think we obviously have a different philosophy. They're meant as insurance for circumstances when needed so one doesn't lose wages for taking time off work to recuperate. The way I read what you've written makes it sound like one is owed a reward for not using them. Look outside the broader public sector and you'll find very, very few sectors where unused sick days are banked. Like many others, when I don't use my sick days, they're gone. But given I've been healthy and working and paid, it's no loss from my perspective, unless my mission was to burn those days when healthy just because I'm entitled to them.


John L said...


I believe you're correct suggesting that teachers won't simply start booking off "sick" more if they can't cash them in.

The ethical view is that the benefit is there simply so folks who get ill, as is the norm, won't suffer financially.

As for $30k per year with a B.A. and an 8-month certificate not being enough the number of folks doing it, knowing full well they'll not likely get a fulltime job anytime soon suggests that's not the case. I've worked at a uni for years and, quite frankly, the goalposts today aren't once they once were for new grads.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the "Education Reporter" needs learn to be more objective. This looks like "teacher-bashing" and not educated, informed reporting.

"Ten days over eight months is still quite generous, even with the increased exposure to the unwell that teachers experience"

Really? According to whom? You? What's the average for nurses or the national average and do these stats include long-term as well? Come on...

John L said...

I'd imagine it'd be quite easy to determine the actual number of sick days across the teaching profession, then adjust the allowance accordingly. Bruno notes that the average is 9-12 so a number far less than 20 should easily accomodate legitimate illness.

Keep in mind that workers in the larger workforce are in the single digits. At 20 days per year a teacher could both take as much sick time as other workers AND collect tens of thousands at retirement, apparently for not using much sick time...? Not easy to get much sympathy on that one!

The point of sick days is to cover sickness, not to accumulate a cash payout at retirement.

Education Reporter said...

Anon. 19 July:
Wouldn't long-term leaves be covered under the bigger benefits umbrella? Paid by whatever health benefits plan the board offers its teachers? That's how it works in every other sector I'm aware of.
Therefore, sick days are in no way part of the same discussion.

As John L. states, the stats on sick days are out there. Every school board (and employer) worth their salt tracks them. School boards in particular as they must cover the cost of replacing that teacher when absent.

Call it teacher bashing if you wish. I have a lot of respect for teachers-- it's their unions and the games many of them play that I have no patience or tolerance for.


John L said...

What I would really like to see is one of the more compelling and thoughtful teachers, and we know there are lots of them, take a stab at speaking out on some of the issues, maybe a guest editorial in a paper? I may agree or disagree with the points raised, however it'd at very least raise the level of discussion beyond what we're seeing now.

As it currently stands I believe the rank and file are inclined to be underserved by the leadership.

Let the public determine the pros and cons of the issues based on substance; that'd go a long way toward determining support.

Education Reporter said...

If there is a teacher out there who wishes to submit something for me to post, we can discuss how that might happen.

Email me in confidence at hugo@educationreporter.ca.