Teachers’ unions expect social peace – at least for the fall

Ontario teachers’ unions say they expect labor peace all fall — and hope for it all year.

While the support staff union is already exchanging offers with the provincial government – ​​and has now requested a conciliator while planning a strike vote – the province’s educators are in the early stages of negotiations. Yet they say they expect months of social peace.

While not as advanced as CUPE, teachers’ union leaders haven’t been as outspoken either. They have publicly adopted a more dovish bargaining tone, despite what should be a tough round of talks given inflation after four years of imposed wage restraints.

“There will be stability and consistency and our members look forward to engaging with their students throughout the year,” said the president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, Karen Brown, saying she expects a normal fall, and beyond.

“We don’t want (disruptions),” she said in an interview. “And I think parents can be assured that our members are committed to learning in person…and they hope that we will work in good faith at the bargaining table to keep members and students in the classroom.

She said that if negotiations continue until December, “and we are at an impasse and there has been no movement”, then it would be time to consider “obtaining a mandate from our members to engage in industrial action”.

However, she added, “it’s not our place now.” And while she wouldn’t rule out industrial action in the future, she noted that members were participating in rotating strikes during the last round of bargaining, just before the pandemic hit.

“For us to automatically re-engage now is not a good strategy for us and our members,” Brown added. “Nobody wants to step on the picket line. This is a last measure.

Karen Littlewood, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said parents don’t have to worry about short-term labor disruptions.

“We are excited to be back in schools with students seeing (teachers) face to face,” she said. “We are still concerned about COVID and we don’t really have any restrictions in place. But other than that, it’s going to be business as usual as much as possible. »

She said that while things have warmed up between the government and CUPE’s school board bargaining unit, teachers are not part of it. CUPE represents 55,000 support workers, but not in all school boards.

“We are committed to being at the negotiating table and waiting to see what the government is going to bring to the table because we haven’t even had that yet,” she said.

During the last round of bargaining, education unions engaged in rotating strikes and other industrial actions. When the pandemic hit, those who hadn’t reached collective agreements did so amid the chaos of wider shutdowns.

It’s unclear whether strikes would be allowed, given that Education Minister Stephen Lecce has repeatedly said he expects school to be a normal experience for children throughout the year. year, with field trips and extracurricular activities. He did not rule out using back-to-work legislation in the event of a strike.

But “my hope is that we will reach an agreement with all the unions of teachers and education workers for the sole purpose of providing stability for families, so that they can be sure that their children will stay at home. school and focus on learning, recovery, and other mental and physical health issues,” he told The Star in an interview.

“The government will do whatever is necessary to ensure children are in school. But I believe that by working together, focusing on the kids…we can get a deal.

Extra-curricular activities are voluntary and teachers’ unions claim that their members are free to organize them if they wish.

Stephanie Ross, director of McMaster’s School of Labor Studies, said this round of bargaining is “both typical and atypical,” but issues that were unresolved when the pandemic hit, such as wages and working conditions, still exist and may have since been exacerbated.

She said CUPE’s decision to file for conciliation is “to try to move the process along…and it’s often not until the clock starts ticking on a potential strike or lockout that the parties become really serious because there are issues at stake.

She said a strike poses problems for both parties. But for support staff unions like CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, wage cap legislation that has capped wage increases at 1% per year for the past three years has undermined morale, she said.

The government has offered support staff earning less than $40,000 a year a 2% raise each year over four years, and those earning more an annual raise of 1.25%.

CUPE is calling for a $3.25 hourly increase for all workers, as well as moving all workers up the pay scales.

Workers earn an average of $39,000 per year, but that includes part-time workers. Among full-time employees, a Kawartha-Pine Ridge school board teacher’s aide earns just under $35,000 a year, while a York Region public board custodian earns about $48,000.

Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said she was eager to get a deal given that the contracts expired Aug. 31 – as they did for all of the education unions – because for its members, job security has also expired.

“That’s why we filed for conciliation,” she said, adding that the union would like additional bargaining days beyond the handful of days to come from Friday, September 16.

“…It’s people’s livelihood; this is important…we really hope the conciliation officer can maybe get a date sooner than that, even just to get an introduction “hey listen, what can we do? ” ”

Ross said that for support staff, there’s a sense of “catch-up activism” because they’re the lowest paid in the system and feel like they’ve been underpaid for a while, and ” it creates a sense of “resolve” with current cost-of-living concerns.

When it comes to teachers, Ross said they will have a harder time “making their case on the salary front.”

“So the issue of wages may not be the issue that is as central to these negotiations as working conditions, workload, staffing levels and class sizes (are) “, she said.

Ontario teachers earn an average of nearly $95,000 plus benefits.

Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards Association, which is also in talks with the province and unions, said “people are really looking forward to having their students or children in what seems to be a normal year” and there is increased anxiety because of the negotiations.

Brown said, “Nobody wants that instability. Our members are looking for as much stability as the parents” and, alongside wage increases, his union will seek smaller class sizes, as well as more resources for vulnerable students.

Unlike CUPE, the elementary teachers’ union will not engage in open bargaining, where all proposals are posted online for members and the public to see – which has been used by the primary teachers’ union. secondary in 2019-2020.

“It’s not part of our strategy,” she said.

Lecce said CUPE is “on track for a potential strike in the fall, which I believe is unacceptable and, frankly, unacceptable to all families in the province.”

“I want them to remember that kids have to come first,” Lecce said.


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