By Stew Slater, Staff reporter
Despite a level of urgency expressed by the ruling Liberal government — including proposed legislation imposing collective bargaining settlements on school boards and their unions effective Sept. 1, and the recalling of the Queen’s Park Legislature on Monday, Aug. 27 to deal with the proposed bill — officials of the Avon Maitland District School Board insist there’s no reason to push the issue; and no reason to expect labour disruption in schools.
“It’s very common for negotiations to continue after the conclusion of collective agreements in the education sector,” offered Avon Maitland Director of Education Ted Doherty, when contacted by the Journal Argus on Monday, Aug. 20.
Doherty conceded that, as in all other school boards in the province, four-year collective agreements are set to expire Aug. 31 between the Avon Maitland board and its unionized employees. In the case of the Avon Maitland board, that includes regular and occasional high school teachers represented by this region’s local of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), non-teaching professionals — such as psychologists — represented by a separate branch of the OSSTF, Educational Assistants represented by yet another branch of the OSSTF, regular and occasional elementary teachers represented by this region’s local of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), and custodians represented by a local of the Canadian Auto Workers.
But Doherty said it has not typically been the practice of either the local board or the local union representatives to meet over the summer. Well before the Liberal government began making moves to enforce its proposed Sept. 1 deadline, he explained, the various negotiators in Huron and Perth Counties had already agreed to begin serious discussions in late August and early September.
“The timing of the (Education) Minister’s announcement was, in general, problematic for school boards, I think, just because of the arrangements they had already set up with their union representatives,” Doherty commented.
In early July, the Education Ministry agreed to a “memorandum of understanding” (MoU) with the provincial Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) union, which outlined — among other factors — restrictions on salary increases and the scaling-back of sick day benefits. Subsequently, trustees from some Catholic boards — including the province’s largest, in Toronto — agreed to stick to those provisions in negotiations with the local unions.
Separate MoU agreements were signed by the Ministry with a union representing French-language teachers, and one representing the non-teaching professionals in a small number of school boards (not Avon Maitland).
But not all Catholic school boards have followed suit. Trustees of the London and District Catholic School Board said they wouldn’t implement the deal without first talking to local union representatives.
“We think if we keep giving up management rights, we’re going to have a government- and teacher-driven system,” the board’s chair told a London newspaper. “Where’s the public input? Where’s the public participation through elected trustees?”
Provincial representatives for the main unions serving the Avon Maitland board, meanwhile, seem much less inclined than their Catholic counterparts to agree to an Ontario-wide MoU.
“There is no need for (province-wide) conflict when there is a defined process for collective bargaining that has been used successfully in the past,” said OSSTF President Ken Coran, during the organization’s leadership conference earlier this month in Toronto. “The vast majority of school boards agree. The vast majority of education workers agree.”
According to Doherty, there’s no expectation that collective deals will be in place with Avon Maitland union locals by Sept. 1. But there’s also no expectation that life in the board’s classrooms will be anything but normal.
“We don’t believe there are any imminent disruptions (due to labour disputes) occurring,” the board’s top administrator said. “We’re getting ready for the first day of school, as are all of our employees.”