By Lindsey Kuglin
A lot is up in the air in the Bluewater District after the provincial government imposed contracts on teachers unions.
The Bluewater locals of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario and Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation had not reached an agreement with the board as of Dec. 31. As such, those unions were included in the sweeping powers of Minister of Education Laurel Broten’s Putting Students First Act, which allowed her to impose contracts without negotiations.
“I don’t know what this means,” ETFO Bluewater president Nancy Lawler told the WHT.
“All the hard work we did in the fall could be for nothing. A number of items both the board and the local agreed upon appears to be in limbo now,” she said.
Lawler said she’s had a chance to look at the contract handed down from the minister, but said it’s not in collective bargaining language, therefore, it needs some work.
“Wording matters because that’s what we’ll be abiding by for years to come,” she said.
Lawler is a member of the ETFO provincial executive and was scheduled to be in meetings Monday to decide on further actions that the union will take.
She said there will “be some response” though she didn’t know as of press time what that response will be. Lawler was echoing ETFO provincial president Sam Hammond. He was quoted in the Toronto Star Thursday as saying, “You cannot expect it will be business as usual in schools going into the new year, based on what this minister has done.”
It could mean that teachers will continue to boycott extra-curricular activities for the two-year duration of the imposed contracts.
The ETFO held a one-day strike on Dec. 19 in the Bluewater district. At that time, the union said they would hold more work-related protests if the government forced a contract on them.
The imposed contracts freeze wages, however new teachers are eligible to move up the pay scale. It also cuts sick days from 20 to 10, and eliminates banked sick days. Broten said that alone will save the province $1.4 billion. Eliminating raises will save $800 million over the two years.
Broten used the powers she was granted with Bill 115, which was passed in the legislature in September, however, she has said this past week that she will ask Cabinet to repeal the law, as it has served its purpose. Lawler called the move “unprecedented.”
“It’s ironic that (Minister Broten) used that hammer and now she’ll repeal it now that she’s used that power,” Lawler said. “By simply removing it, it’s a little too late.”
She said there are hard feelings over Bill 115, drawing parallels to the Mike Harris era, when she said teachers were blamed for the province’s financial position. “They set teachers apart from all other public sector employees and they became everyone’s target. People thought teachers were overpaid, and that our jobs weren’t worth the money. It’s unwarranted.”
She said that the past 10 years, there have been “good things happening in education,” but she fears that’s coming to an end. “The good will of teachers in after-school programs over the past decade, and with this minister, it’s gone in 10 months. Teachers really can’t believe what’s happened,” Lawler said.
Officials from the Bluewater OSSTF were unavailable for comment as of press time, however, the provincial executive is supposed to be meeting tomorrow (Jan. 9) to discuss a plan of action.