September 20, 2012

Frequently asked questions about Bill 115, OECTA MOU and local bargaining

The following answers are based on the provisions of Bill 115 and our reading of the OECTA MOU. However, it is important to note that many of the provisions of Bill 115 and the Memorandum are unclear and, accordingly, will likely be the subject of ongoing disputes.

1. What is the connection between Bill 115 and the Memorandum of Agreement (MOU) signed between the government and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA)?

Bill 115 references the OECTA MOU which imposes certain “required terms” in collective agreements during the restraint period which, in most cases, begins on September 1, 2012. That MOU provides for, among other things, salary increases of 0% in 2012 and 2013, three unpaid PA days in 2013-14 (1.5% of salary), a delay of 97 days for increments, a reduction of annual sick days from 20 to 10 with no accumulation from one year to the next, the freezing of retirement gratuities, and the abolition of the retirement gratuity for any member hired from September 1, 2012 onward.

The MOU also had provisions which addressed the hiring of occasional teachers to long term positions, the hiring of occasional teachers into regular teacher positions, and the recognition of the professionalism of teachers in doing diagnostic assessments. However, the government has stated its intention, as part of the “deal” struck with the Tories, that these provisions will not apply to agreements reached after September 1. Nonetheless, Regulations have recently been enacted to address hiring of long term occasional and permanent teachers which appear to generally conform to the MOU and which apply to virtually all school boards. There are no Regulations, as yet, on diagnostic assessments.

2. Does Bill 115 allow school boards and bargaining units to negotiate local collective agreements? Does the legislation include a deadline for reaching such agreements?

Bill 115 constitutes an unprecedented interference with the abilities of the parties to enter into local agreements. However, consistent with our constitutional challenge to the legislation and ETFO’s consistently stated objective to obtain local agreements under the Labour Relations Act, ETFO will continue to attempt to bargain locally. Generally, the legislation provides that where agreements are not concluded by December 31, 2012, the Minister and Cabinet can act to impose local agreements and ban strikes. However, the Minister may also intervene before that date if, “in her opinion”, she believes the parties will be unable to reach an agreement by December 31.

If a local agreement is reached, however, that agreement must be submitted to the Minister for approval before it can come into operation. Cabinet, on the Minister’s advice, may impose terms into or remove terms from the collective agreement, thereby unilaterally changing any deal reached by the parties. Cabinet may also require the parties to go back to the bargaining table.

3. After Bill 115, what’s left to bargain at the local level?

The legislation seeks to remove the ability of the parties to negotiate with respect to critical terms and conditions of employment. However, as noted above, ETFO will still seek under the Labour Relations Act, to attempt to negotiate local collective agreements which are appropriate to the particular school board. As well there are still local issues which are not specifically addressed in the OECTA MOU, for example, improvements to transfer and surplus language, increased protection for members including language to address violence in the workplace and violent students, workload issues, use of P.A. days, and access to technology and training.

It is important that we remain committed to our constitutional right to engage in meaningful collective bargaining with our employers and not allow the actions of this government to defeat us.

4. Why are we taking strike votes?

ETFO has said since February that we would be bargaining locally as is our right under the Labour Relations Act. We are still committed to attempting to do just that.

The LRA allows strike votes and Bill 115 does not prohibit these votes from taking place. It has been very common in past rounds of negotiations for ETFO locals to take strike votes to allow members to demonstrate their support for their bargaining team and their bargaining goals. It lets the board and the government know that members are standing together. It is a solidarity vote.

Strike votes also maximize our ability to react to situations that may arise during the course of negotiations such as if an employer seeks to strip the collective agreement.

5. How does Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act, 2012 affect ETFO members’ right to strike?

ETFO locals are currently attempting to engage in negotiations with their respective school board. It is ETFO’s position that these negotiations should be governed by the provisions of the Labour Relations Act. Under the Act, our members have the right to take a strike vote and, after the conciliation process and a “no-board” report from the Ontario Labour Relations Board, would have the right to begin collective job action up to and including a full withdrawal of services.

However, Bill 115 does contain a number of provisions whereby Cabinet, again on the Minister’s advice, could attempt to interfere with our right to strike, before or after we have concluded a local collective agreement. Obviously, ETFO does not accept that the legislation can constitutionally restrict either our rights to negotiate local agreements or engage in sanctions if necessary.

6. I understand that under Bill 115 I will lose my retirement gratuity. Is this true?

The OECTA Memorandum of Understanding provides that teachers who are currently eligible for a retirement gratuity have that gratuity frozen as of August 31, 2012. It is unclear, however, how that provision will apply in practice and how it will fit, under Bill 115, into local ETFO agreements. Teachers will be advised with respect to filing grievances in respect of removal of rights under the agreement.

7. I am an experienced teacher with many sick days saved towards my gratuity. What happens to my sick days under the MOU?

The changes to sick leave are significant under the MOU. The MOU mandates the reduction of the number of days that teachers can access for sick leave from twenty (20) to ten (10) days per year. It also prohibits the carry-over or accumulation of any of these days for future use. If a teacher is sick for a period beyond the 10 days the teacher may access up to 120 additional short term sick leave days to be paid at two thirds or 90% of salary. Boards are required to develop and implement a short term disability plan through a third party provider.

There are many aspects to this change that are unknown at this time and it is unclear when and how various school boards will implement these provisions. The MOU proposes discussions with the partners to the teachers’ pension plan on the pension impact as a result of the changes to the sick leave provisions.

8. What are the wage and increment freeze provisions under the MOU?

The MOU mandates a 0% salary increase for a two-year period commencing on September 1, 2012 to August 31, 2014. In addition, under the terms of the MOU, in 2013-14 there will be three unpaid days a year (effectively a cut in pay of 1.5%). The three unpaid days are proposed to be scheduled on PA Days and teachers will not be required to work on those days. The MOU proposes discussions with the partners to the teachers’ pension plan on the pension impact as a result of the three unpaid days.

Under the MOU school boards will delay increment for 97 school days.

9. What kind of legal action is ETFO planning to take to challenge Bill 115?

Bill 115 passed third reading on September 11 2012. ETFO is now moving to challenge the bill in court. In addition grievances will be filed under the collective agreement to enforce terms and conditions of collective agreement which have been “frozen” under the LRA.

On August 30, 2012, ETFO joined the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE Ontario) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) to announce that they would collaborate to challenge the bill. Once launched, the case could be supported by other unions. CCLA spokespersons have characterized Bill 115 has “an unprecedented attack on the civil liberties and constitutional rights of educational workers.”

10. Are we going to have a day of protest? We voted in the spring overwhelming for such a day.

We have had a day of protest on August 28, 2012 at Queen’s Park.

ETFO members voted 93 percent in favour of holding a day of protest. Quoting the ballot, “The one day political protest will occur only if the Liberal government votes to support, at Second Reading, a bill that strips collective agreements and/or interferes with the collective bargaining process.”

At the time members voted, the assumption was that the bill would be introduced during the school year. In fact, it wasn’t. It was introduced during the summer. Honouring the all-member vote, we had a rally at Queen’s Park on August 28, 2012 at second reading. Over 15,000 ETFO members along with CUPE and OSSTF and other union and community allies demonstrated in front of the Legislature. This was our day of protest. ETFO locals in the north who were unable to come to Queen’s Park on August 28, 2012 had a very successful rally on the same day in Thunder Bay. Additional local or regional days of protest may occur during the school year.

11. How is ETFO going to sustain member mobilization against the government’s attack on collective bargaining rights?

ETFO played an important role in helping to elect NDP candidate Catherine Fife in the September 6, 2012 by-election. Her election prevented the Liberals from achieving a majority government. Our efforts in the by-election demonstrated our ability to mobilize our members.

The minority government situation means a provincial election could be held as early as the spring when the next provincial budget is voted on or at any time the Liberals determine to make an issue in the Legislature a “vote of confidence.” ETFO will be focusing on assisting our locals prepare for the next election and engaging our members to communicate their opposition to the government’s actions.

The ETFO strike votes taking place across the province provide an important opportunity to foster member engagement at the political level. ETFO is committed to continuing our political action and our public relations campaigns. Specific strategies and initiatives will be explored by the ETFO Executive and by local leaders at the upcoming Representative Council in October.

12. What should members expect in the next collective agreement that begins in September 2014?

The provisions of the 2014 collective agreement will depend in large part on how members respond to the current attack on collective bargaining. The right of employees to bargain collectively without legislative interference has become a defining characteristic of a democratic society. It is a right that has been earned not given.

The Premier has already said that the government intends to restructure salary grids in the 2014 collective agreements to affect savings. Given the current circumstances it is unclear what other rights the government may attack. The best way to safeguard the future of our profession is to stand strong now.