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Teachers' contract bargaining reforms 'outstanding news'

By: Heidi Ulrichsen - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Apr 08, 2014 - 4:14 PM |
 Members of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario march in downtown Sudbury in December 2012 against the province's decision to impose collective agreement terms on the Ontario's teachers. The province and teachers have now worked out an agreement for approaching future negotiations. File photo.

Members of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario march in downtown Sudbury in December 2012 against the province's decision to impose collective agreement terms on the Ontario's teachers. The province and teachers have now worked out an agreement for approaching future negotiations. File photo.

Bill passes in wake of disastrous 2012 negotiations

It's “outstanding news” the province passed a bill April 8 governing how future teachers' contracts will be bargained, said the president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) elementary unit in Sudbury.

“This time around we'll at least have clear parameters for all sides in bargaining,” said Kent MacNeill.


The last set of negotiations between the province and teachers didn't go well, to say the least.

Some teachers' unions — including OECTA — signed a memorandum of understanding in the summer of 2012 outlining items the province wanted to see in contracts.

But other teachers' unions, namely the powerful Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF), refused to sign the document.

That led to labour unrest by ETFO and OSSTF members — including a withdrawal from extracurricular activities — and the decision by the province to impose a contract on all of the province's teachers in January 2013.

Bill 122, the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act, aims to prevent such a bargaining fiasco from happening in the future.

It outlines high-level provincial bargaining for teachers' contracts, while still leaving room for bargaining at a local level.

There was previously no formal method for centralized bargaining, meaning a different process was improvised for every round of negotiations.

Education Minister Liz Sandals told The Globe and Mail she wants to start provincial bargaining soon rather than waiting until current collective agreements expire Aug. 31.

Under the legislation, management representation will consist of provincial trustees representing school boards — who complained they were ignored during the 2012 negotiations — as well as the government.

Employees will be represented by teachers' federations or provincial education worker unions.

Ratification will be required by all three participants — government, trustees' associations and teachers' federations or education worker unions.

The province said in a press release it consulted extensively with trustees' associations, teachers' federations and education worker unions on the development of the legislation.

A term of three years will be applied to all school board collective agreements negotiated in the future.

“This made-in-Ontario approach was developed after extensive feedback from our education partners,” said Sandals, in a press release. “The hallmark of this new labour framework is providing a clearer and more consistent process for all parties involved in future labour negotiations."

While MacNeill is happy a framework is in place, he's concerned about trustees' associations having a formal place at the table.

He wonders if these associations will dictate to school boards what they can and can't do in negotiations at a local level.

“I think it's scary that they have bargaining agent status,” MacNeill said.

The union president said he expects OECTA locals to start bargaining with the Sudbury Catholic District School Board this spring or early this summer.

Local ETFO and OSSTF representatives, as well the chairs of the Sudbury Catholic District School Board and the Rainbow District School Board, were not immediately available for comment.

In a press release, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), which represents teachers working in the English public system, said Bill 122 “will help ensure a balanced and fair bargaining process.”

“Our goal was to uphold the principles of free collective bargaining by ensuring the process is fair and balanced,” ETFO president Sam Hammond said, in a press release.

“Both the government and the NDP responded with amendments that addressed our major concerns about Bill 122.”

Among other items, the amendments establish clear roles and responsibilities for the three parties at the central bargaining table – the government, school board representatives and the union, the press release said.

The bill also protects local bargaining and the right to strike at both the provincial and local levels, the ETFO said.

The Ontario Public School Boards' Association, which represents English public trustees, said it's happy with the legislation.

"Our goal has always been to bring stability to the entire education sector," OPSBA president Michael Barrett, in a press release. "The passage of Bill 122 will be the first step in seeing this become a reality."
Heidi Ulrichsen

Heidi Ulrichsen

Staff Writer

@heidi_ulrichsen

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