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Hard bargaining ahead

Boards of Education and Cultural Institutions Central Bargaining

Greetings to the nearly 3,500 OPSEU members in this round of bargaining:

It is different this year, as a result of a number of legislative changes.

For the first time we are involved in central bargaining as members of the Ontario Council of Education Workers (OCEW). Across the table, we have the Council of Trustees Association and the Crown (CTA and the Crown), representing the government.

We met face to face on Nov. 12, Dec. 17, Jan. 8-9, and Feb. 12 in Toronto to finalize issues and items that we will bargain at our central table.

Aside from these direct talks, OCEW organized several conference calls with its members over the past few months to discuss what issues we wish to bring forward.

You should know that the government’s approach to us mirrors the approach it is taking to all public sector workers: they want to cut the deficit by taking the money out of our pockets.

That means we are in for a tough round of bargaining if we wish to make gains in our collective agreement.

We are working closely with the other members of OCEW to ensure our members’ demands are advanced. The other members of OCEW are Educational Resource Facilitators of Peel, Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council, Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), Essex and Kent Counties Trades Council, and Canadian Office and Professional Employees (COPE) Ontario.

The nearly 3,500 OPSEU members involved are from Local 283, Peel District School Board and the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board; Local 292, Peel District School Board; Local 330, Simcoe County District School Board, Local 423, Ottawa Catholic School Board; Local 514, York Region District School Board; Local 614, Rainbow District School Board; and Local 663, Moosonee District School Board. 

A Bargaining Conference March 26 brought together OPSEU local presidents in Sector 3 (Boards of Education) and OPSEU staff working with our sector. The local presidents now have the information they need to mobilize their members in support of bargaining.   

So how did this central bargaining thing come about?

You may remember Bill 115 which was passed in 2012.

It essentially stripped bargaining rights away from education workers. While it was probably aimed particularly at teachers, everyone else working in the school system, was affected as well.

Under Bill 115, the Liberal government imposed its bargaining terms. They did this rather than try to negotiate. The government was not interested in wage increases, not interested in bargaining, and not interested in our working conditions. The legislation destroyed the negotiations process.

Bill 115 forced members to live under the same collective agreement for six years, with little chance of improving any contract language. If you did manage to get a few local improvements, the Ministry of Education could veto them, with no right of appeal.

We lost our retirement gratuity, which had been negotiated in good faith in our contracts. It froze our salaries, particularly for people at lower income levels – a group predominately made up of women.

Bill 115 was a bad piece of legislation – so bad in fact that a number of unions have initiated a legal challenge to its legitimacy under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We are involved in this charter challenge, along with teachers’ unions, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and others.

After Bill 115 did its damage, the government introduced Bill 122 which changed the structure of bargaining. Bill 122 encourages central bargaining for school board employees. It makes it mandatory for teachers and strongly supports it for other workers.

That’s why we created the bargaining council, so we could come to the table representing a larger group of workers. As unionists, we know we are stronger when we work together.

Creation of the Ontario Council of Education Workers involved negotiating a constitutional framework and a voting structure which would be fair to all participants. We have all agreed that this approach will allow us to represent the interests of our members effectively and preserve the integrity of the different groups.

Members, of course, will get to vote on ratification of any tentative agreement.

All the changes have undoubtedly slowed things down and the delays have been appalling, but we are finally at a point where we can move forward to deal with a contract that has not been renegotiated since 2008 – yes, really – seven years.

We fully understand your frustration with this set up, but we are moving full speed ahead to make up for lost time.

OPSEU's elected central team (Kathy Whipple and Sandy Barker) are supported by OPSEU staff negotiator Ceceil Beckford and research officer Manzur Malik.   

We will provide further updates as bargaining proceeds.

As bargaining continues, it is important that we stick together. The government’s approach to us and to all public sector workers is wrong. Cutting deficits at the expense of public sector workers is wrong. Please continue to support your bargaining team! Your awareness, resolve, and conviction provide us with strength and determination!

Kathy Whipple, Sector 3 Boards of Education, Chair