'We don't know where we stand'
Barry MacDonald was left scratching his head after a tentative two-year deal was signed by the province and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) July 5.
The chair of the Sudbury Catholic District School Board said trustees were supposed to be represented at the bargaining table by the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association.
After trustees walked away from the table, voicing concerns that the deal did not represent the best interests of students, the government and the teachers went on to sign a deal without them.
MacDonald said the trustees' association put “thousands of hours” into the bargaining process, and were “very, very disappointed” by the outcome.
He said he's not sure where this agreement leaves the province's English Catholic school boards, as contracts are actually supposed to be negotiated between local unions and school boards.
“The local boards hold the bargaining authority,” MacDonald said. “The minister overstepped that and did the bargaining herself. We don't know where we stand.”
The province only started participating in negotiations a few years ago, when the last deal with teachers was being hammered out. That contract is set to expire Aug. 31.
This time, the province said they were going to facilitate negotiations, and the trustees' association was given permission to bargain on behalf of school boards.
“That's what we were doing for three months,” he said.
“Then the province stepped in, telling the bargaining committee that they were going to sign an agreement the next morning with the teachers, and left us completely out of the loop and never even advised us.”
While he has a copy of the agreement, MacDonald said he's waiting for Education Minister Laurel Broten to return from holidays to explain just what the deal means for English Catholic school boards.
He said he's “anxious to hear” what she has to say before setting up negotiations with local unions to look at aspects of their contracts that haven't already been hammered out at the provincial level.
“We don't know how to go forward yet,” MacDonald said.
In signing the deal, OECTA broke ranks with other teachers' unions that walked away from provincial-level talks.
OECTA said in a July 6 press release that the deal ensures there will be no loss of student programs, no increases to class sizes and no teachers will lose jobs. It does, however, freeze wages and force three unpaid days off.
“School boards are facing a funding reduction of $2 billion,” OECTA president Kevin O'Dwyer said, in the press release.
“Some unions may choose to negotiate with cash-strapped school boards in hope of improving circumstances for their members. OECTA made the decision to negotiate an agreement with the government that minimizes the impact of those cuts on our members while protecting student learning.”
A July 5 press release from the Ministry of Education said the agreement allows the province “to meet our fiscal goals while ensuring peace and stability in our classrooms when school starts in September.”
“This agreement will serve as a road map for local bargaining over the summer months and all other teacher and staff unions, and the trustee associations are encouraged to meet to discuss this understanding so that additional agreements can be reached,” the press release said.
“The McGuinty government remains committed to working with all of its partners in education to eliminate the deficit while continuing to protect the classroom experience.”
Dena Morrison, vice-chair of the Rainbow District School Board, said the decision to cut the English Catholic trustees out of negotiations is troubling.
“We're very disappointed that they reached a deal without including our equivalents, the (Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association), at the table,” she said.
“We've long been represented at the provincial table by the Ontario Public School Boards Association.
“Our hope would have been that their equivalent would have also been at the table, given the fact this appears to have so many implications for the rest of us.”
The province has indicated that the deal they struck with OECTA will act as the framework for future bargaining with all of the other teachers' groups, Morrison said.
Meanwhile, the Rainbow board has begun negotiations with the unions representing its employees, including the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Ontario Public Service Employees' Union (OPSEU).
“We've been served notice to bargain by our local groups, and we've had just initial meetings,” Morrison said. “Most of the next set of meetings are not scheduled until the end of August or early September.”
Marcel Montpellier, president of Conseil scolaire catholique du nouvel-Ontario, the local French Catholic school board, said he's also unhappy the English Catholic trustees were shut out of negotiations.
The province had asked the trustees to be at the table, and “they deviated away from that,” he said.
Montpellier said that for now, his board hasn't made any decisions about starting negotiations with the local unions.
“The government seems very confident there will be contracts in place and everything will be as usual come next September,” he said. “I personally don't feel that confident, but we'll see what happens.”
Posted by Arron Pickard