Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Is anyone dusting off the dance floor?

I'm a little surprised I've seen so little discussion, ruminating, etc. on this so far this summer.
Every single K-12 education-sector contract in Ontario expires on Aug. 31.
Why aren't we more people talking about this?
I don't want to sound naive on this matter. I'm well aware that in every round of negotiations known to us in the past 15 to 20 years, nothing serious gets tabled until well after the last agreement has expired. Preliminary discussions on what the discussions will be about along with notices of intent to bargain likely haven't even been have been sent out yet (see here, here, with a H/T to Caroline Alphonso) across Ontario, given it's summer and all. Negotiations are a dance and so far I don't see anyone on the dance floor or even pushing the dust mop around to get it ready.
However, that shouldn't stop more of my media colleagues. Should it?
Let's consider a few things, aside from the fact B.C. teachers are on the picket lines over many of the same issues that could rear their heads in Ontario in the year ahead.
  1. Bill 122 passed before the May election and it's now governing how the pending round of collective agreements will be negotiated. Which means a legislated and regulated series of central bargaining tables where all the big-money questions will be negotiated.
  2. With the Liberals' election as a majority government, sanity may prevail and we won't see a resumption of the silliness that happened with the fall 2012 byelections and Bill 115 in an attempt to win a single seat. However you also didn't see an enthusiastic, blanket endorsement of the Liberals in the 2014 election as happened in 2011 and 2007.
  3. Since re-election, the government has been quite clear (see its Metrolinx response) that no collective agreement will include more money. If there are wage and benefit increases, those amounts need be negotiated out of monies found elsewhere in the system.
  4. Declining student enrolment has not disappeared as a real factor-- while most boards are seeing small rebounds in their youngest grades, all will still feel the real impact of fewer students. Particularly within a four-year high school program. Despite over a decade of declining enrolment, education funding in Ontario has continued to grow. There will be caps on spending and part of that may include job losses and rationalization of programs and services to match lower student populations. We need to let go of the false assumption there will be no job losses in our schools -- within a per-pupil funding and allotment system, there's no way to avoid these changes when the number of pupils drops. This is already happening and if you don't believe me ask your closest high school teacher how many surplus "lines" they have at their school for September.
This is a quick list. There are many other things to take into consideration with this round. Fro example, ETFO was given back (sort of) the wage parity its officers pissed away in 2008-12.
Given how ugly contracts were for the 2012-13 school year, is Ontario up for a repeat of this in 2014-15?  What levers get moved in which direction to keep K-12 sector spending within the government's own stated caps while rationalizing the system (particularly in secondary schools) for continued declining enrolment? Are both sides prepared for a Sunshine List release in 2015 that will show the largest-ever number of educators earning over six figures?
We need to start talking about this and the sooner the better.


susansmith said...
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Education Reporter said...


Point taken, re: 2012-14 MOUs.
To push back gently, there was a "form" of bargaining involved in all of them and I would say there was more discussion around the final set of MOUs than there may have been with the first few, even with Bill 115 in force. That's where the impositions lay and why the charter challenges on it remain alive to this day.

Point also taken, re: inflation. Given the overall provincial budget, it's a fallacy to believe the government intends to fund education taking all inflationary measures into account. This is what I mean by saying there will be layoffs -- with a declining student count provincially, some costs will be rationalized. The days of seeing increases in the overall K-12 funding envelope at a higher percentage than most any other ministries have passed. I might even suggest, being as far away from any discussion table as one can be, that we need more awareness that any increases to wages and benefits may come at the cost of layoffs or program cuts elsewhere.

Will the ed sector unions be willing to sacrifice some members (or, goodness forbid, support support staff agreements) to get others more in wages and benefits? I'd be curious to see how that unfolds.

The overall point I was trying to tease out was how the education budget isn't just going to keep on growing the way it has since 2003. Total funding stated in per-pupil terms sat around $7,000 in 2003 and it's now quite close to $11,000. There aren't too many other lines in the provincial budget that have grown to a similar degree. I think this round of negotiations will see the impact of constraints percolate to a boil far quicker and more furiously than it has in at least a decade.


Anonymous said...

interesting discussion….here's my two cents.Two items that haven't been mentioned that the government will want at the central table will be the benefits plan and the grid. Look for the government to want to introduce a provincial benefits plan that will be modelled on the benefits of the lowest common denominator in the province. Additionally, they will seek to make structural, long term savings by extending the grid (as per Drummond Report).

The unions will want EQAO and LNS abolished (Wynne will not) ETFO and (especially) OSSTF will want almagamation of public and catholic to save money (Wynne will balk). As per BC, the government will desperately want to avoid arbitration because they know they will have to pay up in line with the OPP, Metrolinx, nurses agreements plus the fact that an arbitrator will also award teachers 'catch up' for the two year wage cut in 2012-14.

There will be a long work to rule this year possibly followed by a brief strike. Arbitration may happen, more likely there will be some kind of concession agreement where the unions get a below average wage increase and maybe language around job security (OSSTF) in return for concessions on benefits and the grid. They will try to sell this as 'gains' and the membership will be livid. I think OSSTF will settle first and then ETFO and OECTA will be forced to settle along these lines in short order.

Again, my two cents but I'd be interested to hear what others think


Education Reporter said...


Interesting. Lowest common denominator benefits compared to whom? Others in the broader public sector or the private sector? The LCD in private sector is no benefits at all and I don't see that happening. Further strips on the short-term disability plans mandated in the 2012-14 MOUs?

ETFO has lobbied for the abolition of EQAO since it was created without effect. And if the government did a better job of telling people what the LNS has achieved, it wouldn't be an easy target-- how many union members have benefited from the additional training, resources and even jobs as literacy coaches created by the EQAO/LNS structure? OFIP schools, coaches, secondary success teachers, etc. I don't see the government bailing on those investments.

My positions on the single-school system are clear-- as is my deconstruction of money as its primary rationale. Potential savings, yes, but not to the degree anyone is openly estimating.

With a few exceptions along the way, I don't see that many agreements in the broader public sector that have matched those of the OPP in terms of increased wages and benefits. I don't see that trend breaking in this round of negotiations for any public sector contracts, including in the ed system.

Do agree on your settlement order -- particularly ETFO being the final to sign of the big three. Interesting to see who will be the first, given declining enrolment job losses will hit secondary harder than elementary in the coming contract.

Nobody's chipped in on length yet-- will it be another two-year deal or will they try for four years so there isn't any provincewide bargaining until after the next election?


R Curtis said...

Correction: no 'new' money. And teachers can have any raise they wish as long as it's 'net zero'. All that aside, I, too, have wondered where Mobile Drive is (write your own jokes).

Anonymous said...

Good thing to remember is that some teachers took PAY HITS over the forced MOU (and, no, it’s no form of bargaining when the agreement has to meet only the one side’s position – hence the whole court challenge thingy), so it will be interesting to see what kind of contract “negotiations” go on when many in the public sector didn’t take loses, only zero or increases.