school staffers want to talk
The olive branch from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation came Friday — one day after Queen’s Park reached an agreement with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association to freeze wages for two years, take three unpaid days and curb some perks.
“If we were asked to go back to the table, we would certainly go back to clear the air,” federation president Ken Coran told the Star after a press conference held by four unions to blast the Catholic teachers’ deal.
“Once we had some answers to questions, we would then determine whether to continue talks,” said Coran.
“There are no guarantees what would happen when we go back, but we have not turned our back on the fact that we want to do what’s in the best interest of students and what’s in the best interest of our members.”
Unions representing public high school and elementary teachers, French teachers, and support staff say the Catholic deal is unworkable for their members, unfair to teachers and detrimental to students.
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the country’s largest teacher union, said the government must look elsewhere for savings.
“This deal does not put students first. It’s demoralizing for educators and leaves an uncertain future for younger teachers. It removes hundreds of millions of dollars from a public education system that is internationally renowned for its success,” he said.
“Who really believes that you can take that kind of money out of education without jeopardizing the future of student success?”
Taking a less hard line, Coran noted that months ago high school teachers offered the province a four-year deal with a wage freeze in the first two years and cost of living increases in the next two.
While the government didn’t respond at the time, Education Minister Laurel Broten on Friday signalled she’s open to such dialogue.
“I look forward to seeing OSSTF, ETFO, AEFO, CUPE, and the trustee associations return to discussions with the government with regard to this roadmap so they can come to locally bargained collective agreements that will ensure peace and stability in our classrooms in September,” she said.
Still, Broten said she was “disappointed” that some unions dislike the Catholic teachers’ accord that the government feels is the template for other deals.
Kevin O’Dwyer, president of the Ontario Catholic teachers’ union, said the deal may or may not work for other unions but “clearly we think we have something our members will be satisfied with.”
Teacher contracts expire across the province at the end of August. While all unions are holding strike votes this summer or early fall, Hammond promised schools will open on time in September.
Given that teachers’ salaries have jumped about 25 per cent since the Liberals were elected in 2003, Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government feels the unions should be more reasonable.
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan stressed the contract deal with 45,000 Catholic teachers has to be the model for one million other Ontarians on the public payroll.
The Catholic teachers’ contract puts an end to big payouts of unused sick days at retirement — and if all education unions accepted such a change, it would remove a $1.7 billion liability for school boards.
The Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, which represents management, opposes the deal with OECTA even though it saves the boards a fortune, because the trustees feel it gives away too much authority over hiring practices.
The deal also says principals and vice-principals will take three days off without pay, which startled Catholic school principals, who have not been represented by the teachers’ union since 1998.
“The deal mentions we’re going to be taking three unpaid days off, but I’m certain our members will be upset about this because we haven’t been consulted or had the opportunity to give our input and someone else has bargained on our behalf,” said Jim Minello, president of the Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario.
Aside from teachers, Queen’s Park is currently in contentious talks with the Ontario Medical Association, which represents 25,000 doctors.
While Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton) said “the unions have to also step up to the plate,” she blamed McGuinty for creating the problem.
Kristin Rushowy and Robert Benzie thestar.com With files From Rob Ferguson and Louise Brown
photo credit: AARON LYNETT/Toronto Star