Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation vs. Ontario Liberals.
Last week I posted an offer on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/TheUrbanDaddy) for a guest blogger or 2 and had some positive responses. One such response came not to that group, but instead, to my email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Those of you in Ontario would be perfectly aware that the governing Liberal government has been putting pressure on the public school teachers, passing an anti-strike bill that cut their benefits and limits the wages for Ontario teachers. On the Ontario Liberal website, their take on this legislation and it’s impact is outlined here; “Ontario Liberals passed the Putting Students First Act so that parents will have the peace of mind in knowing that the school year will stay on track and education funding will stay where it belongs — in the classroom.” This is not working at all, with teachers protesting the cuts by not making themselves available for any “extracurricular” activities – sports, art, music, after-school activities and in some cases… curriculum night.
While I do not agree with holding kids hostage for political decisions, there are some arguments which still have to be played out in Queen’s Park, in the media and possibly in court, including; How much have the teachers salaries increased over the past 10 years when private sector salaries have been frozen, or jobs lost, why did the public school teacher’s union not settle with the government when the offer was acceptable for the catholic school teachers, if it’s true that the salaries of public sector employees are 100% paid for by taxpayers (and I am a former public sector employee) then should we not step back for a minute and remember that these employees pay taxes on their salaries and contribute as much as every other tax paying citizen in Ontario. And one last matter, is curriculum night really extra curricular???
It’s going to get ugly before it gets better, that’s for sure.
So I have an opinion from an actual teacher in Toronto who emailed me his / her thoughts on this matter which I will post below without edit.
Have a read and tell me what you think?
“Teaching, or being a teacher in Ontario. Right now, as part of a union. It’s so hard to write these words because as a human being with thoughts of my own, I am torn in two. People who know me know that I hold some fairly conservative fiscal views. The other part of me is a teacher, who belongs to a union, who is at war with the government. The part of me that believe in free market enterprise believes that I should have the right to individually negotiate my salary and benefits with my employer based on how much experience and education as well as success that I bring to the table. The other part of me I guess is relieved that I don’t have to personally do this every year or 4 years. I am so scattered on the current subject, but I want to clear up misconceptions:
1. Teachers want more money. Untrue. ETFO and OSSTF agreed in principle to a two-year wage freeze last March. If it were just about the money, this would be over by now. To understand more deeply though, teachers are on a grid for salary, starting at year 0 and ending in year 11. You get a raise each year until your 11th year and then you are done. The only increases you get will come from cost of living increases negotiated by the union (in the neighborhood of 1-2% usually). Unions were more than happy to freeze those at the top, but were asking that younger and brand new teachers still be allowed to move on the grid with each year of experience. The government disagreed. How would you feel? Now, in fact, this piece doesn’t affect me. I am past year 11. I am just frozen, which I don’t actually care about. But imagine a first year teacher, frozen at first year salary (39,000) working for 2 years, and when they‘unfreeze’ are not given the 2 years of experience they have racked up during the contract. So despite 2 years of service, when the teacher starts at year 0, when they unfreeze they will go to year 1. Most teachers will lose a huge amount of money this way and it is unfair. It is overly generous to me who has nothing to lose, and penalizes those coming up behind me.
2. Why are teachers bitching about sick days when they already get 2 plus months off a year? Let me clear this one up too. Summer for teachers is in fact unpaid. We are prorated during the year and a percentage of our salaries is held back off of each pay. In our last pay in June, we are given the heldout money that the board reserved from our pay during the year so we can survive the summer months. Let’s be clear, we are not on paid vacation. Why do we need 20 sick days? Easy, because the vast majority of working people (and we get this, we honestly do) will send their sick child to school. And children by nature are the worst at spreading germs. I have literally been vomited upon. I’ve had a child with bronchitis cough in my face. I have caught more flus and strep throats and colds than I can remember. I don’t use sick days for fun. I, like many other teachers understand how hard it is for you to arrange child care or take a day off work yourself. So the choice is either YOU get more sick days or I do. Quite frankly I’d be thrilled if all parents kept their sick children at home because they had their own bank of sick days, but they don’t, so teachers do.
3. So I addressed having our sick days cut in half, and not being allowed to carry them over year to year. The not carrying over part bothers me, and the cut in sick days bother me. Here’s the part that doesn’t – gratuity pay when you retire. Essentially, in the past if you didn’t use your sick days, you’d get a big cheque at the end (nowadays the top payout was about 46,000, not bad right?). Many unions have already given up this benefit, and I don’t think we teachers have a leg to stand on for this. I won’t fight for it. People in the private sector don’t get this, and as more public contracts come up you will see the retirement gratuity go the way of the dinosaur. All I am asking for is my sick days, to bank them, and if I don’t use them, when I retire, they vanish. Fair enough?
Here’s where we get into tricky territory for me. We have lost the right to strike, or to collectively bargain, essentially rendering our unions useless, and the dues we must pay to them every month a complete waste of our money. Anyone who knows me from the past knows that I’ve always lived this double life of hating unions while being a member of one. I am now in the spot of having to seriously reevaluate all my thoughts and feelings on this issue. I don’t want to be a hypocrite and say that MY union should be able to collectively bargain and the rest should fold. It would go against my most inner beliefs. I can’t help that I chose a profession that is unionized. I have had times in the last few years where my union(s) came to my aid: when I was unjustly reprimanded by an administrator, the union was there, and helped me navigate a diplomatic and well thought out counter offence that saw the accusation and reprimand go away. I was grateful at that moment to know there were people who “had my back”. I got angry four years ago when the union I was in at the time went for major increases in salary in a crappy economy, and more shocked still to see the McGuinty government GIVE it to us. It was unnecessary and probably put us where we are today.
Now that we are legislated with “Putting Kids First” which we always did anyway, let’s talk about actual outcomes for the government. They will save (they say) 468 milllion dollars over the course of the 2 years. They are fighting a 15 billion dollar deficit. For those good at math, he just solved 1/30thof the problem while alienating most of his base (of which I am not one). If he had wanted to create a larger impact, he should have gone after the entire public sector, with one huge piece of legislation, freezing everyone, everywhere, making us work unpaid days, and cancelling gratuities and collective bargaining everywhere. But he didn’t. He attacked teachers. And that’s where I feel stung the most. Teachers don’t want to put students in the middle of this, but it’s all they have left. I have watched the news and seen how many individual schools have announced no extra-curriculars for the forseeable future. Ladies and gents, I hate to say it, but I believe within the next two weeks this will be province wide, and there is even talk that the Catholic teachers will follow suit, as most of them have yet to ratify the deal their leaders took which they felt betrayed them. Is Putting Kids First ensuring that they have demeaned, hostile teachers? Is having students essentially living through 2 years of work to rule worth it? Like I said, I am still sorting this out for myself and asking myself what I think I can live with. I don’t have answers, but I am tired of that panicky feeling at the bottom of my stomach for what comes next.
As a teacher I am tired of being called every name in the book – lazy, greedy, short hours, blah blah. All of it untrue. Tired of having to defend myself and I won’t anymore. No one in the private sector would be shamed for hoping for a raise based on their performance, why do we vilify those in the public sector who hope for the same? I hate to say it, but us public sector people, we ARE the middle class, and we are the stable jobs that pay into the tax base and keep things alive while private interests go bust. So please, stop telling me you pay my salary, I pay my salary too.
I am tired of the government PR campaign that seems to say all teachers want is more money, and I’m sick and tired of seeing that my union who has a well defined position (we just don’t want to lose our right to collective bargaining) be completely unable to get the message out. In the PR wars, we have lost, and lost big, and in doing so have alientated the public. It’s hard to be a teacher today in Ontario, but I will carry on as I always have, teaching to the best of my ability, and I didn’t need Dalton to condescend to me to “Put Kids First”. I always have. But I’m not a volunteer or a nun. He needs to remember that.”