Wednesday, April 3, 2013, was a significant day in the saga of our sadly soured relationship with our employers, the government of Ontario and the Toronto District School Board. Whether this date will turn out to mark the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning, (or maybe something else in between) remains to be seen, but I would like to offer a few observations, entirely my own.
Fortuitously, ETT had scheduled a General Meeting for April 3, long before the call came from ETFO for me to attend a provincial meeting with other Local Presidents and negotiators. This allowed the general membership to express their immediate reaction to the news that I had received in the morning, and had been communicated to them, and the media, in the afternoon.
At both meetings, the most frequently expressed sentiment was disappointment with what seems to have been achieved, given the efforts and commitment to a fair deal demonstrated by members. I have no doubt that our provincial leadership team, with the support of our highly able legal team, toiled mightily and left no stone unturned in their efforts to make the best of a bad situation.
Once again, with our OECTA and AEFO colleagues out of the struggle for months, and with OSSTF by all evidence moving towards an agreement, ETFO faced the prospect of being isolated in our resistance, and facing unknown consequences as a result.
The decision made by the provincial executive, after thorough discussion and reflection, we can be sure, was to come in line with the other unions on the advice to members concerning extra-curriculars. The current situation can be best described as: the advice to members to withdraw from performing these activities is suspended; members are reminded that participation in extra-curricular activities has been and remains voluntary and at the discretion of each individual member.
Those members who feel the breach of trust, assault on our constitutional rights, and the eradication of goodwill perpetrated against us by the Liberal government, justify the withdrawal of voluntary activities which are performed on the basis of goodwill, continue to have the option of not participating in them.
Members who make this decision can rely on the support of both ETT and the provincial office. And of course, as was underlined by members at the ETT meeting on April 3, collective action is far stronger than individual action, and many members consult with colleagues, often their whole staff, before making their individual decision as to whether to start, stop, or continue participating in extra-curricular activities.
I started these comments with the observation that we have two employers to deal with: the government and the board. However the issues with the province are resolved (or not), I would like to remind ETT members that, in two respects at least, the board has, regrettably, chosen to aggravate, even to exploit our current travails. While most of our members who followed their union’s advice concerning the progress reports in the fall, have had the issue resolved by means of a non-disciplinary “letter of expectation,” a few are being pursued aggressively by their principals, at great cost in money, time, and morale. ETT continues to press the board to bring their campaign to an end in the interest of restoring goodwill in the schools involved. You should also know that, with our bargaining rights tied up by Bill 115, the board saw fit to exploit our temporary weakness, and land a $700 000.00 sucker punch below the ETT belt by telling us they would unilaterally recalculate how much ETT is billed to cover the costs of replacing members on leave to serve on the union executive. We will resist this opportunistic move with all means at our disposal.
So, we are a long way from being out of the woods, and I will leave you with one more conundrum: while we all can agree that the Liberal government treated us in a way which violated our basic rights, and that there should be a consequence for them, or any political party that acts in such a manner, how much consideration should we give, if any, to the danger of that consequence benefitting the Hudak Tories, and their proposed anti-union election platform with the possibility of Doug Ford being our next Minister of Education? Who knows where this will lead, but let us make sure we continue to communicate amongst ourselves, and with those who represent all of us across the province through these troubled times.