The provincial government may now have deals with unions representing more than half of the province's teachers, but that doesn't mean school board trustees in the Sudbury area are happy about it.
Memorandums of understanding were signed last month by the province and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA), as well as the smaller Professional Student Services Personnel union.
Then, on Aug. 9, Education Minister Laurel Broten announced the province had signed a deal with the union representing French Catholic and French public teachers — the Association des Enseignantes et des Enseignants Franco-Ontariens (AEFO).
Because the memorandums only cover broader contract issues, the province has now thrown negotiations back to the school boards for completion. They've been directed to come to an agreement by Sept. 1.
If school boards and unions can't come to a resolution, the government has threatened to recall the legislature at the end of August to pass legislation to ensure the school year isn't disrupted.
Meanwhile, local school board trustees say they're unhappy they were left out of the negotiations which led to the provincial memorandums of understanding.
The group representing French Catholic school board trustees — the Association franco-ontarienne des conseils scolaires catholiques — was at the bargaining table for most of the negotiations.
But at the last minute, they were left out, and the AEFO and the province inked the deal without the trustees on side, according to Marcel Montpellier, president of Conseil scolaire catholique du nouvel-Ontario.
He said he's “very, very disappointed the ministry has taken that strategy.”
The French Catholic trustees are even accusing AEFO of bargaining malpractice, as it's the association's view that they're supposed to bargain with local school boards, and not the province, Montpellier said.
He said his school board and the AEFO are now trying to work out dates to begin negotiations.
“I don't think the teachers will walk out, even if there's no contract,” Montpellier said. “As long as there's some kind of understanding that we'll keep negotiating even after school has started, that will be possible.”
When asked to comment on the situation, Yann Archambault, the head of the AEFO local representing French Catholic teachers in this region, refused comment, and directed Northern Life to the union's provincial office.
AEFO first vice-president Anne Vinet-Roy said in an Aug. 9 press release that the agreement is “fair and reasonable” for union members.
“It lessens the impact of the government's initial bargaining parameters, notably for teachers who are in the early stages of their career,” she said, in the press release.
“The agreement also greatly improves working conditions for substitute teachers and brings about a few improvements to working conditions which have no monetary impact.”
The two-year deal with AEFO, which Broten said is nearly identical to the earlier OECTA deal, includes a wage freeze for teachers, but allows newer teachers to move up the salary grid.
Jody Cameron, vice-chair of the Sudbury Catholic District School Board, said his board is “quite alarmed” with the disregard shown for elected school board trustees during the provincial negotiations.
The Ontario Catholic School Board Trustees Association had walked away from negotiations because it was unhappy with the province's demands.
The province and OECTA then signed a deal without the trustees' association at the table.
“Some things as boards we were quite firm on, and one was maintaining management rights,” Cameron said.
For example, the boards felt they had the right to allocate teachers and resources in schools as they saw fit, instead of by seniority.
“What was being negotiated infringed on our ability to do that,” he said.
The Sudbury Catholic District School Board is now going to take a stab at negotiating a deal with OECTA locals.
They've recently sent the union locals a notice to bargain and a notice for conciliation.
When asked why the board would want to use conciliation — usually a last-ditch effort for two parties to reach a deal — Cameron said it provides the board with a recourse “to ensure that the board's interests are respected.”
But whatever the process, with most of the school board and union staff currently on holidays, Cameron said he doesn't think reaching a deal before school starts is realistic anyway.
Kent MacNeill, president of the OECTA locals representing elementary and occasional teachers in the region, said he's concerned by the Sudbury Catholic District School Board's notice for conciliation.
He said he suspects school boards across the province unhappy with the provincial memorandum of understanding are going to try to use conciliation to get their way.
“What they will do as an association of school boards is basically push back against the memorandum of understanding,” MacNeill said.
“They're saying 'No, you're basically taking away our rights to manage boards the way we see fit, and we're not just going to take it as a fait accomplis. We're going to still have our own language changes.'
“Under conciliation, they can change the collective agreement to read whatever they want. A few months ago, Rob Ford threatened the same thing with the public workers in Toronto. I fear that's where they may be going.”
Not that MacNeill is entirely thrilled with the memorandum of understanding himself.
First of all, he said his members entrust him with representing their interests at the bargaining table, something which is taken away from him by the provincial deal.
There's also aspects of the memorandum of understanding he's not crazy about.
Years ago, local OECTA members negotiated benefits for retirees. MacNeill said this was negotiated away in the provincial memorandum of understanding in exchange for allowing young teachers to move up the salary grid.
On the positive side, at least there's not likely going to be a strike or any other type of labour action come September, MacNeill said.
The two major teachers' unions who have not yet signed any deal with the province are the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation and the Ontario Elementary Teachers' Federation.
Dena Morrison, vice-chair of the Rainbow District School Board, which hires teachers belonging to these unions, said regardless of the provincial situation, the board will go through its normal negotiations process.
“We're going to continue to follow the law – which is the Labour Relations Act — and bargain in good faith, as we have done previously,” she said.
So far, the Rainbow board has only had time for initial meetings with the nine union groups representing its staff members, she said.
“It's very unlikely that we'll have agreements in place before the start of the school year,” Morrison said.
“School is expected to begin as normal. The teachers have committed to that.
"Neither one of us are in a strike or a lockout position at this point, because we haven't reached an impasse. We've just begun bargaining.”
As for what's going on at a provincial level, Morrison dismisses it all as “political gamesmanship.”
“The province can rattle their sabres all they want,” she said. “If they want something different, then they can legislate. But we're following the law, and we're bargaining in good faith.”