The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation agreed to resume extracurricular activities after a long dispute with Government. It is important to recognize that the Elementary School Teachers and those who work in the high school system face very different constraints.
February 24, 2013 – In any dispute it is critical that each side have a workable exit strategy that allows for saving face, declaring victory, and living to fight another day. This is especially true in the context of labour negotiation. After the posturing, the slogans and the often theatrical grand-standing, both sides need to return to 'normal' and work with each other for at least the duration of the agreement that was reached. Leaving the other side a way out requires an understanding of the constraints they operate within.
The ongoing struggle between the Government of Ontario and the Unions representing public school teachers is an interesting example of this challenge. Simply put, how can each side end the impasse and save face?
As with the current dispute, it is important to recognize that the Elementary Teachers and the Secondary Teachers face different constraints. The leader of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) sought his current role after the last round of negotiation which saw ETFO settle for a lower multi-year wage increase than that negotiated by other Teachers. Prominent in his campaign for the leadership of his Union was the promise to catch his members up. This creates a significant challenge as ending the current dispute would essentially see him abandon this central premise of his leadership.
Off-setting this, however, is the fact that it is ETFO that benefits the most from the Government’s ongoing plan to implement Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) in Ontario’s schools and its commitment to cap classroom sizes in the early grades. Both of these policies create an additional demand for teachers and thus increase the membership of ETFO. The new Wynne Government has also reaffirmed its commitment to proceeding with the implementation of FDK. It is important to note that the Drummond Report and the Official Opposition Progressive Conservatives have both called for these two signature policies to be scaled back or abandoned altogether. Now that a new dynamic is in place in discussions between the Government and the Unions to replace the confrontational mode highlighted by Bill 115, it would seem that the ETFO leadership has a simple choice: it can focus on the fact that, one, the 'process' is being improved and, two, focus on the policies that benefit its members. Doing this allows it to declare victory and move on. But the price of this choice is the abandonment of the central promise of the Union’s leader.
The challenge for the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers Federation (OSSTF) is in many ways the opposite of that faced by ETFO. Students in Ontario can apply to the high school of their choice, thus creating a mini-market for the services of teachers and schools. The ongoing dispute over Bill 115 and the removal by teachers of support for extracurricular activities in particular, has underscored the fact that labour peace and extracurricular activities do exist in the Catholic Secondary School system. As the March deadline for high schools applications approaches, more and more families are looking to move their children to the Catholic system. If enough of this happens, the demand for teachers in Public High Schools will lower and the possibility of reducing the number of teachers becomes a real challenge.
It is precisely to avoid this possibility that there is greater pressure on the leadership of the OSSTF to bring an end to the current tension and move on to a more constructive dynamic. •
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