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I am going to post an exchange I had earlier this week with a teacher. She was dismayed by something I had said on TV. I was talking about the importance of extra curricular activities, but the teacher felt that the discussion was too one-sided. She was concerned that no one understood how bad this new law was.

We have posted a number of articles about Bill 115, and about the true story behind the so-called crisis in education, but the media often prefers nice simple black and white versions of what's going on.

While this is a sad time for education, it is an opportunity for some important discussions. I hope that in this online community we can have a polite and respectful conversation about what’s going on in our schools.

What’s happening in your school?

Are you a teacher? A parent? A principal?

Did you actually read the new law, called, ironically, the Putting Students First Act?

What do you think?

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Here's a bit of what one teacher said:

"It is a sad day when our Media, certain union executives, and MPPs as well as leaders of such important organizations as People for Education can behave so irresponsibly and dishonorably, forgetting their actual roles and responsibilities.  As a teacher, all I can say is, “Please, do your homework!”

Actually read Bill 115. It’s a clear-cut denial of a group of employees right to fair and equitable work relations with its employers.  Actually writing that,“The Ontario Labour Relations Board shall not inquire into or make a decision on whether a provision of this Act… is constitutionally valid or is in conflict with the Human Rights Code”.  Noting that, “No term or condition included in an employment contract or collective agreement under or by virtue of this Act, … shall be questioned or reviewed in any court’.  What happens when a Government does not allow its people to question its actions?  When it believes it’s not answerable to us? Now add the fact that the Government can, “…do anything else (it) determines is necessary in the circumstances”.  Does the word dictatorship not come to mind? That’s when people are expected to follow its leaders and never question their decisions or actions. Is this truly,“…a time when you have to accept your fate”?

...We will not stand idly by and let anyone and most especially not our representative Government, trample our rights and freedoms in order to save face.  We live the reality of our current school challenges on a regular basis. We know what’s at stake and it certainly isn’t salary increases or even a reduction in sick days.  It’s time we all held our Government accountable for its delusions of grandeur and its shameful disregard and disrespect of who we are and what we stand for.  As Dr. William Arthur Ward, author, educator and motivational speaker is quoted as saying:  “The mediocre teacher tells.  The good teacher explains.  The superior teacher demonstrates.  The great teacher inspires.”"

I'm a parent, trying to make sense out of it.  Sad for the kids that won't have the opportunity to play on a sports team, or have a grad trip or a yearbook to glance back on - to just name a few.  Sad that politics is something they have to deal with so young.  I've read over Bill 115 and I do understand it's not just about the money, or about the sick days, it's about the removal of human rights.  My question is how did it get there and why?  Since 2004 teachers compensation has been increased by 25%, an average salary is $83,000 with an excellent drug, dental & disability benefit plan and a pension.  From where I'm sitting a 25% increase in 8 years is not bad, in fact it's excellent.   With currently 600,000 people in Ontario that have no place to go in the morning.  No job, no benefits and no hopes at retiring comfortably.  The icing on the cake, a provincial deficit of over 14 billion, something had to give.    So did Bill 115 pass because an agreement couldn't be made?   If so, potentially the unions that kept pushing with their hand out need to be accountable to the teachers?  Just trying to make sense :)

How did we get here is a great question. I think maybe one answer is to look at the new legislation being tabled that will cover everyone working in the public sector (and some of those people make far less than $83,000). This Bill is being tabled before bargaining even begins, but will probably contain the same kind of language re: rights.

The ratings agencies (Standard and Poors, Moody's etc.) want us to bring down our deficit very quickly. If we get it down, then our interest rates go down, which makes our payments go down on our long term debt - which right now represents the third highest cost for government after health and education. Personally I worry about our provincial policy being dictated by a ratings agency, particularly when the economist the Premier asked for advice (Don Drummond) specifically recommended against wage freezes and wide spread job lay-offs. Now he did recommend cuts, and those too would be problematic, but...

Bill 115 covers everyone who works in schools: teachers, secretaries, educational assistants etc.; and you're right, most of those employees(including teachers) have had salary increases of between 2% to 3% a year for the last 9 years. Teachers start at about $42,000 a year and many other staff continue to earn about that. This year, the problem began (as far as I know) at the very first bargaining table meeting. Those who were there said bargaining started with an edict "you're getting nothing, we're changing your retirement pay outs, reducing sick days and take it or leave it." Not perhaps the best way to begin.

I think everyone knew that the writing was on the wall in terms of increases, and certainly the high school teachers offered a salary freeze (they actually offfered a four-year freeze in order to maintain stability), but eveyone wasn't happy with the other cuts. But (again, as far as I know), there was no feeling that anything was going to give. So people walked away from the table. Which was definitely not helpful. But they weren't threatening to strike, so the Bill itself really wasn't necessary - everyone could have just kept working, salaries would have stayed the same as last year and the world would not have ended.

BUT - that's all history now, because the bill has passed.

You're also right that our whole economy is in a mess - many people without work, many people with jobs with no benefits, no sick days, no pensions - but there are those who say making cuts is not the best way to get the economy back on track. They argue that deficits don't necessarily create a long term problem for governments, and that it's more effective to stimulate the economy through government spending than to cut spending. Then maybe a few more people would have jobs with benefits etc.

My favourite quote these days is from the President of Iceland. He was talking about the collapse of the banks in Iceland and the ongoing economic crisis in Europe. He said, "I don't know why we're listening to the ratings agencies now. They gave Icelandic banks a triple A rating and they collapsed three days later."

But again - none of that helps kids get their running clubs back. My hope is that, while this is all playing out through the courts, everyone working in schools finds another way to protest. I totally understand teachers' and other staff's anger at the new law, but there must be more imaginative ways to let their dismay be known, or even to disrupt work. Or maybe it's time to call for a summit, get everyone to sit down and figure out how to keep this dispute away from children.

Sorry for such a long post. 

As person raised by a mother who was an elementary school teacher and a father who spent his working life as an employee of one of the automotive companies, I am a strong supporter for collective bargaining and agree that the province has taken a very unfortunate path with this Bill in dealing with the challenges it is facing.  As a parent, I also feel that the teachers have also taken an unfortunate path with bringing our children into their dealings with the challenges they are facing with the government.  I share Annie's hope "that, while this is all playing out through the courts, everyone working in schools finds another way to protest."  There is much support for the amazing teachers of our province and what they are facing but they need involve and seek the support of the parents not the children.  We together (parents, teachers, governments) are the custodians of our education system - the children are the beneficiaries and shouldn't be involved in making a statement or as leverage for what is our collective responsibility.    

I am the son of a teacher. I am very familiar with the amount of work teachers do week in, week out, both inside and outside the classroom.  As a result, I have a great deal of respect for teachers.  The Teachers' Federations, on the other hand, are a different thing.  The "take it or leave it" offer presented to them back in (I believe) May was, I agree, not the best way to approach the bargaining season.  Under normal circumstances, bargaining is composed of give and take on both sides until an agreement is reached.  These, however, are far from normal circumstances.  I was quite impressed when I heard that the Catholic Teachers and the French Teachers had come to an agreement with the Province.  I'm certain they were not all that happy with it, but it was an agreement.  When those were reached, the OSSTF and the ETFO announced that the agreement was not good enough for them.  From everything I heard from various interviews, the big issues were the removal of the sick day bank, the reduction in the number of sick days, and the 3 unpaid days.  I don't have any issue with the number of sick days that teachers had (20).  As I understand it, the unpaid days are there to allow junior teachers to move up the grid.  My big issue is the sick day bank and retirement payout.  That benefit is something that should never have been given.  The vast majority of people who have sick days with their jobs loose whichever ones they don't use, and are given a fresh batch at the beginning of each year.  Sick days are there so that you are paid when you get sick.  If you don't use them, that means you are reasonably healthy, and you still get paid the same amount.  They are not there to boost your retirement benefits. 

I need to say at this point that I do have a number of concerns with bill 115.  The government could not afford to have the existing contracts roll over, as it would have meant an automatic pay increase.  The strike concern was overblown in the media, as it was only strike votes that were going to take place in September, not strikes.  While my kids have not yet been impacted by the removal of extra curricular activities, many in the province have.  During the summer, I remember hearing a number of times from the OSSTF and ETFO presidents that their actions were motivated by putting students first.  It is interesting that that is no longer the case.  While the unions have not explicitly told their members to stop doing extra curriculars, they haven't told them not to either.  The students are being punished because of a dispute with the government.  I realize that the teachers only have so many things they can do to protest, but hurting students should be at the very bottom of the list.  I'm sure if my father were alive today, he would be very much opposed to the cancelling of extra curriculars. 

The OSSTF and ETFO need to swallow some pride and accept the terms of the contract that their Catholic and French counterparts accepted.  It is only for 2 years.  By then I firmly believe that the the economy will be in much better shape and increases can once again be granted.  I went for 2 years without an increase in my job during the recession, and I only have 10 sick days per year.  These are difficult times for everyone.  If the contract is accepted, perhaps a condition could be that some of the more controversial terms of the bill could be reversed.  I don't know if it would happen, but it is worth a try.

I would like to know more about the banking of sick days because I can see some good reasons to allow it and equally good reasons to restrict how they are used.  

In a job where taking a sick day means that the school board will have to pay for the teacher's time and IN ADDITION pay a substitute, sick days are very expensive indeed, particularly when we are talking about 4 weeks worth.  That said, allowing employees to bank days provides them with a buffer in case someone actually is significantly ill, or their child is, and as such it is very much in the employee's interest  as a type of self-funded short-term disability insurance policy.  The problem arises when banked sick days are used  for non-illness related purposes, such as to retire a year early or for cash value. This may be allowed, but it should not be because to my mind, it is counter to the spirit of what sick days are. If someone is so unfortunate as to have needed all their sick days because of illness, I do not begrudge them any of the days.  But those of us who are lucky enough to have been healthy should not expect a reward for our good health and for not using days for trivial reasons such as to avoid losing them.

It seems to me that a more equitable solution would be to allow teachers to bank their days in case they need them (and they might) but at the same time to explicitly define how the days can be used--i.e. sick days are to be used when you or your child are actually sick.  We faced this debate not long ago at my child's daycare during recent contract negotiations, and both employees and employers could agree on this middle ground.  The big winners of course were the children, because everyone worked hard at the bargaining table to find equitable solutions for their ultimate benefit.  I'm disappointed to see that this has not happened with the government and the teachers' union.  Either side could have called for mediation--both are guilty of not having done so. 

 

You make some really great points. It would be good to hear from a teacher about how the sick days are used.

You're right too about the need for mediation. But now, sadly, mediation is not allowed, nor is arbitration.

I am a parent with kids in both a downtown school and an Etobicoke school.  In one school the extra-curricular activities are on hold on Mondays only and at the other school everything that would normally happen outside the regular school day has been cut.  

In hearing form parents about their reaction to this-- people are very divided, some blame the teachers who say they are using kids as pawns, some direct their anger at the union for giving such a vague call to action that has been interpreted differently at different schools, some are angry at Dalton and bill 115.  And some parents just want their kids lives back to the way they were, sports teams and all.  

In an effort to do something about this mess, we hope to unify all ideas and rally at Queens Park on Monday October 1st form 8AM to 9:15AM (see Facebook page http://on.fb.me/SnDrlK) in hopes to get some attention and hopefully someone will retract something and there will be a discussion, not bills and mandates and sad kids.

Attachments:

I can't help but remember an NDP government (1990-95) that faced a similar economic crunch. They,too asked their unions to recognize the restraints they faced. When the unions refused, the gov't responded with "Rae Days" - an attempt to save money without laying off workers. Sound familiar? I also remember what happened next - Mike Harris and drastic cuts to education. And the birth of P for E, Metro Parent Network and other grassroots groups.

We've had 9 years of labour peace and educational progress in our schools. Was that only because the unions got everything they wanted?

I HATE to see any group lose their collective bargaining rights - including when their union refuses to bargain on their behalf. Walking out after one hour (ETFAO) or 2 weeks later (OSSTF) is not doing your best for your teachers. The two unions that worked out a deal seem to be proof that the govt was, indeed, ready to negotiate on some points.

Finally teachers work in germ-ladden classrooms and deserve a decent amount of sick days. It is my understanding that the banked sick days were offered to teachers years ago in lieu of increased salaries. They are a privilege and not a right.

It is difficult for me to read these posts Annie. I'm a teacher with 21 years in the elementary school system and I am betwixt and between on how I feel about everything that is going on.  I do not support Bill 115 at all and I see it as setting a very dangerous precedent for future generations. I do see it as a violation of our basic rights and I believe that we should ALL be protesting this action by this current government.  However, I am, admittedly,  uncomfortable with how it is being handled by union members in different schools. Some schools are running operations (including extra curricular) as normal; others have cancelled some things, not all things and in other schools - everything outside of instructional teaching is being boycotted by teachers - including staff meetings and curriculum night. The union's message has been inconsistent and I feel that it is causing confusion, and ill-will between students/teachers, parents/teachers and teachers/teachers.  Also, I do feel great empathy for those who are adversely affected by the cancellation of extra curricular activities. I see it as being a punitive measure that only generates more ill will and it does much to lessen the overall morale and tone at school.  I'm not sure that it is the right way to express our displeasure and anger over Bill 115.  I was around in the Harris days....and I know that it took a very long time for all of us to recover and see some lightness in the schools again. There is a definition of insanity that goes something like this, "it's like hitting your head against the same wall, expecting different results". Somehow, I am doubtful that taking this route again is going to yield positive outcomes.  Yet many teachers do not feel at all free to speak up. The few that do, often receive a very cold reception - and I find that the most troubling and contradictory for professionals that preach peaceful resolution in the playground.  We accuse the government of bully-like behaviour and yet I have seen some militant teachers playing bully in these meetings that we have - where everyone is expected to agree on boycotting meetings and cancelling all clubs. Some teachers happen to think that curriculum nights are a must, and should have gone on as originally planned.  Some believe staff meetings and in-school team meetings are also essential and should continue. There are discussions of what exactly is outlined in the education act and to what degree are we within our rights not to attend meetings, and suggestions that we simply wait and see what the board(s) are going to do about it all.  Dissenting voices are drowned out; outnumbered. And some of us are left wondering, if at the end of the day, is it really going to garner us the support from parents and students that we need in order to really take this fight on with the government to protect all that is vital in public education.  Some how I have my doubts.

Great post Janet, very interesting to hear a teachers honest take on the whole situation.  Us parents are sifting through the mess and are very divided about the politics.  And I am left wondering, why is my kid caught in the middle of a political situation and is my child's unwilling sacrifice really going to help anyone?

Thank you for that. Right now I am deliberating over a quandry that I'm currently in - following my heart/conscience or following the crowd. Your brief note has given me a boost and has reminded me why I went into teaching in the first place !

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