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October 9, 2013 - Vol. 3 No. 1

Government Plans to Legislate Provincial Bargaining

Continued Opposition to the Wrecking of
Public Education

Government Plans to Legislate Provincial Bargaining
Continued Opposition to the Wrecking of Public Education - Enver Villamizar
Oppose Schemes to Usurp Power to Impose Austerity - Mira Katz
Update on Bill 115 Charter Challenge

Our Future Lies in Our Fight for the Rights of All!
Actions In Support of Hunger Strikers in Lindsay
Overwhelming Support for Just Stand of Striking Bonfield Workers


Government Plans to Legislate Provincial Bargaining

Continued Opposition to the Wrecking of
Public Education

The fight of teachers and education workers in defence of their rights, the rights of their students and the public education system is far from over. The announced schedule for court hearings on the violation of rights in Bill 115 shows this court fight will not be settled before the current imposed contract expires. Meanwhile, the government is moving towards legislation making provincial bargaining and other parts of Bill 115 a permanent feature of education sector bargaining.

It will be important for teachers and education workers to keep on taking initiative into their hands in defence of their rights and of public education. The Liberals, with the support of the Progressive Conservatives (PCs) have an aggressive agenda in the education sector. Workers can't wait passively as the constitutional challenge to Bill 115 is dragged through the courts and as the government pushes on with new anti-worker legislation.

The Liberals and the PCs have imposed austerity contracts on teachers and education workers but this is just one part of their anti-social wrecking agenda in the education sector. Much of this agenda, including the part already achieved, was laid out plainly as a plan by Don Drummond in his Report of the Commission on the Reform of Public Services released in February 2012. Both the Liberals and the PCs are committed to implementing Drummond's wrecking agenda and workers in the education sector have to prepared to continue confronting this wrecking.

Drummond's report laid out targets in all sectors for stealing funds from public services. In the education sector the targets were: eliminate $2.8 billion from annual spending in education by 2017-2018. This could be done, he advised, by attacking the wages and working conditions of teachers and education workers, increasing class sizes and reducing staff, cancelling full-day kindergarten, or reducing its staffing, further privatizing education in various ways such as transportation, or giving school boards the power to charge for transportation to school, and by imposing new user fees for students such as for any credits over the 32 required for graduation.

This is to be done by 2017-2018, and it appears the Liberals are still on target, having already ripped out $1.8 billion in 2013-2014 using Bill 115. However they face a growing legitimacy crisis for this theft. The aim of course in stealing these funds from education is to pay the moneylenders interest on the provincial debt, pay monopolies that are extorting the government to get their hands on more public resources, and to open up new markets for investment through privatization.

Writing in 2012, Drummond said, "Education stakeholders should build on the climate of trust and evidence-based decision-making fostered since 2003 to begin a constructive dialogue on how best to find the savings needed to meet student achievement objectives while holding annual spending growth to one per cent." Following Bill 115, there is no trust for the austerity agenda pushed by Drummond and adopted as policy by the government as well as opposition PCs. This is the problem the government and PCs both face. The Commission added specific things to implement: "To help stakeholders, the Commission believes the following measures should be phased in progressively over the next six years, in this priority sequence:

"Reduce by 25 per cent the per-pupil funding for textbooks and learning materials, classroom supplies and computers;

"Increase the average class size from 22 to 24 in Grades 9 to 12;

"Set the cap in class size at 23 in primary grades and eliminate the other requirement that 90 per cent of classes must be at 20 or fewer;

"Increase the average class size from 24.5 to 26 in Grades 4 to 8 by 2017-18;

"Eliminate 70 per cent of the 13,800 additional non-teaching positions created in school boards since 2002-03; and

"Reduce by 25 per cent the funding for capital renewal and student transportation."

The Commission also acknowledged that teachers and education workers' collective agreements defend students' learning conditions, stating: "The Commission acknowledges that current provisions in some collective agreements may prevent some school boards from implementing some of these measures." Hence the need for new provincial bargaining arrangements to get them to "agree" to permit the attacks on education. The Commission adds: "The willingness of teacher federations and support-staff unions to agree to remove such obstacles should be a consideration when the province decides, either through new provincial labour frameworks or through its education funding policy, to fund wage increases by 2017-18."

In other words, to get teachers and education workers to submit to undermining the learning conditions of their students, the provincial government should use either or both of imposing a new labour framework, or its control over funding to set up a situation where unions and school boards are put in a position of deciding whether to implement austerity via cuts to wages and benefits, or cuts to education programs and staffing, or user fees or all three.

"School boards, teacher federations and support staff unions may be able to lessen the impact of the $1.06 billion in savings from larger class sizes and fewer non-teaching staff by agreeing to compensation increases that are below the current settlement trends in the BPS [Broader Public Sector]. The growth in wages across the BPS has slowed since the government introduced its restraint policy in March 2010. While the parties may be able to secure lower compensation increases in the early years, the Commission doubts that it is realistic to assume that such a pattern can persist through to 2017-18."

What Drummond means with this is that the wage freezes already imposed won't be enough to satisfy the ruling elite's demand for austerity. This is just the beginning. The public education system, he says, must also be attacked directly by increasing class sizes, eliminating staff and reducing funds for learning materials. Teachers and educations workers will have to step up their mobilization in the coming months and years to meet these attacks on their livelihoods and public educations head on.


Oppose Schemes to Usurp Power to Impose Austerity

The Wynne government is expected to legislate central bargaining in the publicly-funded Kindergarten to Grade 12 (K-12) education sector in October. It is part of a transformation being made to the education system in Ontario begun under the McGuinty government and now carried forward by the Wynne Liberals.

From Ad Hoc Provincial Negotiations to Permanent Arrangement

The McGuinty government initiated and oversaw negotiated "framework" agreements between provincial unions representing teachers and education workers and provincial trustee associations representing school boards starting in 2004, and again in 2008 when Kathleen Wynne was Minister of Education. This was a voluntary process entered into by the unions and trustee associations. The 2008-12 framework agreement was then incorporated into collective agreements negotiated and ratified at the local level by individual bargaining units and school boards.

Then in 2012-13, following the recommendations of the Commission on the Reform of Ontario's Public Services put forward by banker Don Drummond, the McGuinty government declared a 2 to 3-year "restraint period" and used Bill 115 to impose "contracts" ripping out over $1 billion from public education. The legislation was also used to render bargaining between local unions and their employers, the school boards, a sham.

The McGuinty government made it known that it planned to legislate provincial bargaining before the next round of negotiations in 2014. The Wynne government has taken this up where McGuinty left off. Education Minister Liz Sandals has said the existing system of contract negotiations in the sector is "broken" and needs to be replaced with one that "works." When she says "broken" she refers to the fact that school boards, although made up of locally elected trustees, no longer have the ability to set education tax rates in municipalities where they operate, something Mike Harris changed while in power, meaning the province controlled all the purse strings.

Despite not being able to increase taxes, school board trustees are elected to oversee the education system locally and have a mandate to oversee negotiations with teachers and education workers, as their employer. Trustees in many cases have had their powers usurped and this new attempt is to once and for all eliminate their control over negotiations with teachers and education workers, all with the aim of better imposing cuts and privatization.

Legitimacy Crisis of Austerity Agenda Deepens

The government's plan for getting buy-in for the new arrangement they wanted was scuttled when teachers and education workers said No! to provincial dictate and the usurpation of the power of locally elected school boards and unions with Bill 115. This No! reverberated as teachers and education workers took action to make their No! mean something by blocking the Liberals' quest for a majority by way of the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election, and their attempts to re-set in the last round of by-elections. The final attempt -- to use the president of one of the education unions to run as a Liberal candidate -- failed miserably in London West, leaving the Liberals high and dry in their efforts to claim legitimacy for their agenda.

Wynne is now facing a difficult situation. She is following the recommendations of Don Drummond to implement austerity by attacking the learning conditions of students in Ontario, but does not have a willing or trusting partner in teachers and education workers, or many school boards.

Consultations to Get "Buy-In" to Austerity

Now, in order to try and overcome its crisis of legitimacy and get "buy-in" from teacher and education workers' unions and school boards a few "consultations" have been held between June and September for the government to discuss its plans and supposedly receive input from its "partners." However, the government has deliberately not put anything in writing and kept its plans vague while it prepares to impose the new arrangement. It no doubt does not want to repeat what happened with Bill 115 where a leaked draft of the legislation was supposed to intimidate teachers and education workers into submitting, but instead inspired them to go into action and force its repeal.

Revealing the true aims of its exercise, the government began its "consultations" by informing unions it intended to prohibit strikes at the local level, essentially what it had done with Bill 115, but making it permanent now. Of course the unions rejected this as they had said they would. The unity of opposition no doubt showed Wynne that times have changed from pre-Bill 115 when OECTA voluntarily agreed to give up the right to strike locally in return for their provincial Memorandum of Understanding. However Wynne's first volley was surely also part of a set-up to make it appear as if what is taking place is negotiation or at least "meaningful consultation," similar to the fraudulent negotiations that preceded the passage of Bill 115, if things should ever go to court.

Showing its goal is to usurp the powers of local unions and school boards, the government has said it is planning to legislate a tripartite arrangement which will be imposed on school boards and unions, allowing the government to unilaterally usurp their powers as employers and employees, respectively under the Education and Labour Relations Acts. The government has indicated it wants a veto by requiring that all three parties -- provincial unions, a provincial bargaining agent for the school boards to be established by the government and the Ministry of Education -- must ratify any agreements reached centrally. The government has also said it intends to "allow" local bargaining and the right to strike locally, but will retain the right to decide what can be bargained locally and what must be dealt with at the central table, thus making a mockery of local bargaining. In the end, much of the talk is moot as teachers and education workers have seen that when they say No! the government will resort to legislation to get around their will and impose non-agreements.

The whole process shows that the aim of the new legislation is to find a way to prevent teachers and education workers from using their right to strike as a way of saying No! to attacks on education as part of the neo-liberal austerity agenda. Having already used the Labour Board to criminalize the use of voluntary and extra-curricular activities as a form of protest, the Wynne government is now preparing a new attack to undermine the right to say No! as it resets for a new round of implementing its austerity agenda.

Whatever form the new legislated bargaining process takes, teachers and education workers must prepare themselves for a new round in the fight for rights in Ontario by demanding that the government negotiate, not dictate. This means that government must respect workers and local school boards or be told No! if attempts are made to shut them out of the process or prevent them from having a meaningful say.

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Update on Bill 115 Charter Challenge

The legal challenge to Bill 115 by four unions representing teachers and education workers in Ontario (Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, Canadian Union of Public Employees and Ontario Public Service Employees' Union) will not be heard by the Ontario Superior Court until June 16-20, 2014, according to latest reports.

The following timeline was provided for activities leading up to the hearing:

October 31, 2013 - All undertakings to be answered and refusal motions to be brought

December 13, 2013 - All examinations of witnesses should be completed

January 31, 2014 - Applicants' facta (briefs of legal arguments) will be done

February 28, 2014 - Government to respond to applicants' facta by this date

After the June 2014 hearing, the court will issue a decision in accordance with its own timelines, not expected to be before the fall of 2014.  By this time the "collective agreements" Bill 115 was used to impose on teachers, education workers and school boards will have expired and be up for renegotiation. This also means an answer from the courts will not come before a new bargaining structure is imposed through legislation by the government.

A final ruling will take much longer if appeals to the court's decision must be heard, not an unlikely scenario given what is at stake.

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Our Future Lies in Our Fight for the Rights of All!

Actions In Support of Hunger Strikers in Lindsay

On October 8 spirited actions were held in Lindsay, Toronto, Kitchener, Guelph and London in support of the 191 hunger striking migrants currently being held in long-term indefinite detention in a provincial jail in Lindsay, Ontario. The detainees have been on hunger strike since September 18 and are striking against their long-term indefinite detention and for better prison conditions after being transferred from prisons across Ontario. (See Ontario Political Forum, September 26, 2013). Over 1000 people have now signed the petition in support of the striking detainees found here. The detainees' situation is a direct result ofthe Harper government's ongoing campaign to attack the rights of the most vulnerable in this case immigrants and refugees on the basis of an anti-social notion of Canadian values.

Lindsay; Kitchener



Guelph




Toronto; London




Ottawa



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Overwhelming Support for Just Stand
of Striking Bonfield Workers


Striking Bonfield civic workers and their families, October 5, 2013.

Hundreds of Ontario working people rallied this past weekend in the town of Bonfield to support striking civic workers who are being bullied by municipal officials. Workers from cities all over the province participated in the action, including some who travelled many hours by bus. They came to Bonfield to take the stand that an injustice against any worker is an injustice against all.

Bonfield is a small municipality of just over 2,000 people outside North Bay in Northern Ontario. The town employs 16 civic workers, half of them as part-time workers. They make up a small bargaining unit represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 4616. They have been without a contract since January 1, 2012.

On August 1 the civic workers went on strike to resist the unacceptable concessions being demanded by town officials. With the aim of breaking the strike and the union the town has been using scabs, with some town officials participating in this activity themselves. On the morning of the rally the mayor was found working at the local landfill. Henri Giroux, North Bay and District Labour Council President denounced the mayor and his cronies, saying the workers had confronted a councillor that morning who promised them he would stop scabbing their jobs, but was found at the landfill later that day doing just that.

The town has also resorted to firing five strikers. The mayor falsely claimed the five were preventing two councillors from leaving a meeting, despite police being present and confirming no such thing happened. Called the Rally for Fairness, the action in Bonfield was organized to say No! to this strikebreaking and bullying of a small group of workers.

The workers have received the overwhelming support of their community. Over 1,000 community members signed a petition demanding that the mayor get back to the bargaining table. Over 200 community members also organized a fundraising event, raising $3,000 for the striking workers and their families.

During the rally, CUPE National Representative Steve Boyle described the situation saying, "Every time we get to the table, the employer keeps demanding concessions that would roll back several provisions in the collective agreement, including attacks on seniority, training, employment security, scheduling, vacations, overtime, sick-leave and benefits."

Bonfield Mayor Randy McLaren claims he is not going to contract out civic workers' jobs but insists on collective agreement wording that allows contracting out, as long as current workers are not affected. He is also demanding an extended probationary period for new hires. The regressive demands of McLaren forced the workers to go on strike to defend their livelihoods and their union rights. His stand has meant hardship for the striking workers and their families and is wrecking the services people rely on in the community. Ontario Political Forum talked to working people from Bonfield and North Bay who said the mayor was acting in a totally irrational manner. They also emphasized that the mayor was able to treat the workers with such arbitrary high-handedness because he was simply following the lead of the Harperites and provincial governments. The union is filing a complaint with the Labour Board and has said these tactics are for the sole purposes of intimidating the workers.

Participants in the rally included Ontario Federation of Labour President Syd Ryan, CUPE National President Paul Moist and CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn, Paul Elliott and Sam Hammond, Presidents of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) and Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) respectively, as well as representatives of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA), the United Steelworkers, Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Machinists Union (IAMAW), Unifor and several district labour councils. Many working people from Bonfield and nearby communities also took part in the action.

After the speeches workers from various sectors and locals generously donated to the Bonfield workers' strike fund and talked with them. One of the striking workers told Ontario Political Forum they were in very good spirits for the fight and overwhelmed by the support they have received.




What Participants Had to Say

Diane Francoeur spoke on behalf of the unjustly fired workers, saying: "We want to thank everyone for your show of solidarity today, in helping us to keep strong and to get us fight for our rights, for fairness, and respect. The first strike in the 126 years of the history of Bonfield. Wow! What was he thinking? We are now starting on our third month on the picket line, and there has been no word on going back to the table to settle. All we asking is to have a fair contract, and a respectful workplace, free of harassment and bullying. Even though the mayor and council have taken over our jobs [...] we will prevail. Even though other members of the council work the landfill site, and apply coal mix in the middle of the night, we will stay strong. [...] We need to get back to the table to resolve these issues. This strike was 100% preventable. The mayor and council are not only hurting us, they are hurting everybody in our community. This conflict will be felt for a long time after all this is said and done. We will not sign our collective agreement until all of us five are reinstated and we have our jobs back! All of you made us stronger and closer than we were three months ago. With that, we will pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and we will stand firm. We may be going through hell right now, but we will survive, and we will win!"

Garth Pigeau, President of CUPE Local 4616 emphasized that the striking workers were all members of the community who live and volunteer there, and pointed out the need to oppose dividing people based on the fraud of workers versus taxpayers.

Sam Hammond, President of ETFO stated: "Whether it takes a week or a month, we are here for you, sisters an brothers. [...] I simply want to say I'm here today to help to contribute to the strike fund for these people for today, tomorrow, and as long as it takes.

Katha Fortier, Ontario Regional Director of Unifor brought her union's greetings: "I stand before you today and offer the full support of Unifor, 300,000 members from coast to coast. We stand behind you, against your employer, the mayor, who is determined to undermine the foundations of your collective agreement. This isn't just your fight. Working women and men across the country are facing identical threats, all based on the theory that austerity is the only answer. We're told good jobs, job security, and a fair wage are unrealistic. They try to convince us that we should all be afraid, and we should all expect less. But we know better. Sixteen workers in Bonfield, Ontario certainly know better. And they are leading by example. They're standing up, not only for themselves, but for workers everywhere, to the bullies, everywhere, who tell us we don't deserve a decent standard of living. Contracting out, concessions, they don't build a better country. They don't build a better province, and they certainly don't build a better community." Fortier said she had met the mayor earlier that day, who said he would not return to the bargaining table unless the workers accepted concessions. "We won't stand by and watch any level of government race workers to the bottom. Job security and decent wages build the economy that every town including Bonfield needs to succeed," she concluded.

Sid Ryan, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour spoke next: "What's happening in your community is a microcosm of what's happening across the country and province. The fights you are fighting here today are exactly the same battles that we are fighting in our workplaces, whether we are in the private sector or the public sector. The only difference in this particular instance is that [of] sixteen workers, five have been abused by this mayor and have been terminated from employment. But I can guarantee you there will be no collective agreement in this community without the reinstatement of those five workers. When I say that this is a microcosm, what I actually mean is that the battles that we're fighting here, we're fighting right across Ontario. Concessions at the bargaining table, attempting to rip apart our collective agreements, attempting to destroy the labour movement. And your fight is the fight of every worker in this province."

Paul Elliott, President of OSSTF said: "What we see happening here and what we're starting to see is a wave sweep right across the nation. This Conservative ideology makes no sense and starts to tear away at the very social fabric of this province. [...] There was a time when you could go to the [bargaining] table with the belief that it didn't matter where you were, you could go to the table and expect to be treated with respect and dignity. That has been taken away. So what is happening here is a principled fight, and it's a principled fight that we all embrace."

Ann Hawkins, First Vice-President of OECTA thanked locals for coming out to support "sixteen of the best role models this community has." Hawkins' message to the mayor was that austerity "just isn't working. You're destroying sixteen families. That is definitely not fairness. What do we want as workers? Decent work, full-time employment, benefits, [to be] treated with dignity and respect as all workers in this province should be. These people should not ever have been treated this way."

Mike Bissaillion, Northeastern Representative of OPSEU stated: "It's as if they want working people to apologize for having half-decent jobs with half-decent benefits. It's as if they want us to say we're sorry. [...] I was in a restaurant and I heard two business owners discussing how the minimum wage was too high. So the question I have is: Where does it stop? Where does it stop for working people?"

United Steelworkers' Toronto Area Council President Carolyn Egan, who said she was proud that over fifty steelworkers were on the bus from Toronto to show their solidarity with the Bonfield workers, stated: "My union has been through many tough strikes, and ‘one day longer' was what got our members through those strikes, and will get your members through this strike, because we know that whether it's the government in Ottawa or the government in a town like Bonfield, they try to separate us from each other. They try to separate the private sector, the industrial workers from the public workers. They try and separate the unorganized from the organized. We are saying no to that separation and we are showing today practically, concretely what unity really means. This it what it means. It means solidarity between working women, working men, people from every community across this nation, and I'll tell you, the agenda that your mayor here, has in this town is nothing more, nothing different than what governments whether in Ottawa, whether in Greece, whether in Africa, whether in the Caribbean, in India, are trying to push: a neo-liberal austerity agenda on workers around the world. But what we're seeing is they're not prepared to take it. We're standing up, we're fighting back, they aren't going to win."

Rejean Amyotte, Ontario Northeastern Region Director of PSAC informed the crowd that he was born in Bonfield. He said it was also where the first spike was driven on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Bonfield would now have new historic significance, he said, because of the sixteen workers taking their just stand.

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