No. 9

December 23, 2022

Update on Negotiations in K-12 Education in Ontario

Going Beyond the Limits Imposed by the Labour Relations Regime

Enver Villamizar

Where Things Stand at Year-End

Pay and Benefits Are Investments in Education, Not Costs

Laura Chesnik

Matters Which Require Attention

Mira Katz

Building Spaces for Everyone to Take Their Place


Note to Readers



Update on Negotiations in K-12 Education in Ontario

Going Beyond the Limits Imposed by the Labour Relations Regime

Enver Villamizar

A serious issue facing Ontario teachers and education workers in the ongoing negotiations in K-12 education is how the Ford government is concentrating police powers in its hands. It demands that what it calls negotiations take place within the confines of labour relations but  gives itself the right to dictate terms outside of the labour relations regime using its legislative majority and prerogative powers. When the workers recognize that they are deprived of power within the labour relations regime and make their fight a political fight which concerns the entire society, they win the support of their colleagues, parents and students. The government then tries to get them to give this up with promises that if only the workers stay within the labour relations regime they can make headway.

At this time, for example, the government is going after teachers and education workers' pay and benefits at the negotiating table where it is the negotiators on both sides and lawyers who are informed and able to speak. Those who must live under the conditions decided or imposed and the public which is directly affected by the outcome do not have a role or voice. The government deliberately attacks wages and benefits at the negotiating table in order to try and put teachers, especially, and their unions on the defensive based on a disinformation campaign that education is a cost, and teachers and education workers are a drain on the system rather than its most vital component.

What is most important at this time is to not accept foregone conclusions or pessimism but to pay attention to the actual conditions in K-12 education and what is required. This is a matter of concern to the entire society, and includes the pay and benefits of those who provide education. By keeping teachers and education workers defensive about their wages and benefits the government is hoping to keep them within the confines of the labour relations regime where they hold the cards. However, when they can't get the unions to accept what is unacceptable they will once again try to use their political power to dictate what must be accepted while keeping the workers constrained.

By not permitting themselves to be constrained by the very regime which does not restrain the government, the workers can make an advance, involving everyone in the fight for the right to education which has been shown to be where power lies.

(Photos: OSSTF District 9, Durham DECE)

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Where Things Stand at Year-End

On December 11, the Ontario Council of Education Workers (OCEW) announced it had reached a tentative agreement that will be put to ratification in the coming weeks.

OCEW represents education workers in seven unions: the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU); the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE) Ontario and its locals 103, 429, 454, 527 and 529; the Educational Resource Facilitators of Peel; the Essex and Kent Counties Skilled Trades Council; the Labourers International Union of North America, Local 837; the Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council; and Unifor locals 229, 302 and 2458. Its members work in various job classes in Ontario school boards.

Although details of the tentative agreement have not been made public, the government stated it had offered to other education workers' unions the same terms ratified by a majority of members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees-Ontario School Board Council of Unions (CUPE-OSBCU). These include: a $1 per hour wage increase each year for four years and a one per cent increase to the benefits plan per year, with a four per cent increase in the fourth year.

Education workers represented by CUPE-OSBCU ratified their tentative agreement on December 4, with a vote of 73 per cent in favour, in which 41,559 of the 55,000 members participated (76 per cent of the total membership).

At the press conference announcing the results, CUPE-OSBCU President Laura Walton expressed pride in her members for engaging themselves and speaking up about the conditions in the schools, which has allowed everyone to see the reality that education workers face. She emphasized that what is most significant is the participation in the ratification vote, the highest she has seen in her time as President.

In speaking about what the public can now see as a result of the fight to get to the agreement, she said: "I know education workers, like child care workers, nurses, midwives and other health care workers are worth more than we are paid. This is especially true because we do the work that is the foundation for all the profits that are made by Bay Street financiers, telecom oligarchs and grocery store barons. I know that young people in this province deserve the world's best education system. One that meets their needs and provides services to every single student, no matter their challenges, so they can grow and thrive together, in the same schools as their peers." She expressed that the fight for public education is an ongoing fight and one that CUPE-OSBCU will continue, alongside parents and other workers.

Negotiations with other teachers' and education workers' unions, including l'Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF), are ongoing. As the negotiations are not being made public there are very few details known about how they are progressing, if at all.

Renewal Update has received reports that union negotiators indicate that things are moving very slowly and that the government is targeting pay and benefits of teachers and education workers as a way to put them on the defensive. How to address this as well as the secrecy with which negotiations are taking place are matters of concern for teachers and education workers at this time.

(Photo: N. Kaplan-Myrth)

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Pay and Benefits Are Investments in Education, Not Costs

Laura Chesnik

It has been amply revealed in the case of both health care and education workers, if pay and benefits do not keep up with increasing cost of living and stressful working conditions, it directly affects staffing levels and the quality of care and services people receive. The public must be informed about this relationship so that they can see that investments in education are in fact what create value in the form of a healthy and educated population and any agenda which seeks to remove funding from education with cuts or privatization will only remove value from the economy and the public services everyone requires.

When governments attack wages and benefits, they hide that they are in fact trying to steal the value produced by workers in the public sector in order to pay off private interests who want to use it for their own self-serving purposes. The value produced by educators is the youth they educate who go on to produce immense value in the economy. When the value they produce is not returned to society but retained by the private enterprises that benefit directly from it, public education is undermined. This is what the government is trying to hide.

As for benefits and sick days, the government uses this as a wedge to get educators to shut up on the basis that they have "good benefits and sick days," which many others don't, as if these had no relationship to the conditions required to teach and provide the required supports to students. If teachers and education workers are sick or physically not well they cannot teach and provide the supports students need -- let alone under the conditions of packed classes with all the demands in any given classroom without the supports that have long been required.

Teachers and education workers also do all kinds of extra-curricular activities and even when off sick have used the time to catch up on marking or planning, which they should not have to do. In some cases sick days are needed just to have the mental health to be ready for what dealing with students in today's classrooms requires. So how can sick days be considered an individual benefit?

If the government arbitrarily breaks the arrangement for sick days again -- as the previous Liberal government did when it arbitrarily removed half the sick days and then put in place a union-administered benefits plan in an attempt to have its imposition of provincial bargaining legislation accepted -- it will lead to more chaotic conditions in the schools, with more fending for oneself by both staff and the youth in their charge. In other words, pay and benefits are vital to the actual learning conditions of students and should not be treated as a private matter as if educators have something to hide.  

(Photo: RU)

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Matters Which Require Attention

Mira Katz

There are many important matters which require the attention of the public so they can intervene in the negotiations in education. For instance, since taking office, the Ford government has set out to use different means to contract out the delivery of education in order to get around the unions and hand over public funds to private interests.

This includes direct payouts to parents to pay for private education or just to pocket, payouts to parents for technology instead of investing in schools so the youth can have what they need in their classrooms, and the introduction of tutors in the schools who are not part of the education unions and who can be used as a scab labour force in the event of educators working-to-rule or strike. This also includes the increased use of online apps and the required per student subscriptions which remove public funds and put them in the hands of private tech giants. None of these are part of any rational plan to use public resources such as TVOntario, for example, to deliver education through TV shows or learning apps at home.

Another very significant aspect is the way in which what is taught is being decided right out of the Premier's office in secret with little to no input from educators or experts with curricula only available online so that changes can be made "just-in-time" as various private interests dictate. The math and science curricula have both been arbitrarily changed, not only in terms of what is taught but in how curricula are changed. This has led to serious problems of teaching and learning, as evidenced in the self-serving test scores the government promotes.

By bringing forward the actual conditions and what they reveal and telling the truth about issues, public opinion can be formed and ways worked out to resolve the problems in a way that favours the educators and the youth in harmony with the general interests of society itself. Openly discussing the conditions in education and what is being negotiated should not be looked at just as a matter of strategy. Teachers and education workers and the public have a right to know what is taking place and what the situation is so that they can play their role.

(Photo: RU)

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Building Spaces for Everyone to Take Their Place

In the opinion of Renewal Update, as a way to build their own capacity to bring forward their experiences and conditions, educators can establish spaces where they can get together to bring to the light of day what is taking place and what they think about it. In these spaces they must be able to speak freely, without fear of being identified by others with this or that label. Unless they can speak freely and say what they think, they will remain at the mercy of what others think for them.

What others think for them may be right or may be wrong, but the workers must be able to make up their own minds about it. This is required for the workers to be able to speak in their own name on an informed basis. They need the space where they can take their place, the place that belongs to them by right. Furthermore, these spaces must recognize their right to say No! to whatever proposal is made. By arguing out what they think about the proposal by referring to their conditions and demands, they can draw warranted conclusions. They will have the conviction to say No if  they think it is not suitable or know why they are saying Yes. What is certain is that if their right to say No! is not respected, their Yes! will not be seen to be credible.

Providing the space where workers can take their place provides a new impetus for uniting themselves and the public around a definite way forward which provides problems with solutions. This also inspires the youth to do the same and parents too as they see that it is in arguing out what is needed that solutions can be found.

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Note to Readers

This is the last issue of Renewal Update for 2022. We thank you for your support this year and call on you to also send us reports, photos, views as well as funding in the New Year.

Our editorial and technical staff send you season's greetings and wish you well in the New Year. Stay safe!

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