Education minister Laurel Broten is imposing contracts on Ontario public school teachers under controversial Bill 115 but promised to repeal it before month’s end as a “show of good faith” to teachers.
Some 55,000 Catholic and French-language teachers and 4,000 support workers have already agreed to deals that froze pay for most of them, the minister noted Thursday morning in a news conference.
However, Broten directed her remarks at the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and its president Sam Hammond, whom Broten argued left the bargaining table after an hour “never to return”.
Hammond countered Bill 115 was a “hammer hanging over our heads,” called Broten’s imposition of it “undemocratic” and charged it was Broten — not his union — that left the negotiating table.
Bill 115 allows the government to impose contracts on teachers and school boards as of Jan. 1.
Citing a “stubborn deficit” of $14 billion that must be eliminated, Broten said the pay freeze and reduced sick days already agreed to by Catholic and French-language teachers was necessary to “preserve gains in education (like full-day kindergarten and capped class sizes in early grades), minimize labour disruption during prolonged negotiations and to protect teaching jobs.”
Contracts imposed under Bill 115 on the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation will be based on the Ontario Catholic Teachers’ contract, Broten said.
The government agreed to 10 sick days and a modernized short-term disability plan that provides for 120 days annually. Both the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation have been without a contract.
After 10 months and hundreds of hours of negotiating, the government reached 65 collective agreements negotiated and ratified with 5,500 teachers and 4,000 support staff, Broten said.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), representing school support workers, agreed just days ago to a new contract with wage freezes after 30 hours of bargaining over the holidays. It is a tentative agreement which CUPE members must ratify by Jan. 14.
“I wish I could say all parties showed the same resolve and fortitude in negotiating in the best interests of students,” Broten said. “Some parties engaged in strike action that closed schools... which was stressful and chaotic to many students and parents. Some parties offered no other solutions except more delays.
“The government had no other reasonable option.”
The contracts imposed on public teacher unions at boards other than the 65 where deals have already been reached will be retroactive to last Sept. 1 and expire on Aug. 31, 2014.
Any strike action is illegal until contracts expire. “Fair and balanced” is how Broten described the collective agreements reached with the 65 school boards.
Broten charged the two unions’ “rhetoric and advertising turned the act into a lightning rod.”
Hammond denied the charge. “This impasse was never created by our members or by our advertising,” Hammond said his own news conference held an hour after Broten’s.
“This was never about pay increases. This was about the democratic right of people in this province to actively organize under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “This is by no means a collective agreement. There was never an attempt by the minister to hold fair and respectful negotiations without that hammer (Bill 115) hanging over our heads.”
By month’s end, Broten said she will put forward a motion in the House to repeal Bill 115. “It’s an important step to find a way forward with our teachers,” she said.
Hammond charged Broten’s intention to repeal Bill 115 made no sense to him.
“I don’t know how you can enforce that unprecedented bill, and in the same sentence, repeal it. It makes it more confusing,” Hammond told reporters at his news conference. “What they needed to do was to take that hammer away. We would have agreed to pay freezes. I told her, ‘tell us what your fiscal reality is.’ But on Nov. 11, the minister abruptly ended negotiations.”
Broten’s repeal of Bill 115 after she imposes contracts under it will do little to assuage the “outrage” of members of his union, Hammond said. The minister expressed hope teachers would return to participating in extracurricular activities when classes resume next Monday. But Hammond made no such pledge.
“Early in the week I will have a conversation with the leadership team of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. We’ll consider all our options,” he said. “You cannot expect that after what this government has done, after what this minister has done today, that it will be business as usual going into the New Year.”