Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's best hope for avoiding labour strife in the classroom this fall – an agreement with the English Catholic teachers’ union – is falling apart as both local bargaining groups and school boards oppose the deal.
The revolt by both employees and employers makes it unlikely that school boards will sign contracts before the beginning of the new school year. The government has been urging Catholic boards to accept the deal it reached with the teachers’ union, and public boards to use it as the basis for their negotiations.
Mr. McGuinty threatened on Thursday to recall the provincial legislature early to ensure that teachers are in the classroom after Labour Day. He said he will introduce legislation if other unions do not follow the same road map as the Catholic teachers group and voluntarily sign contracts.
“It’s a road map to disaster,” Richard Brock, president of the Halton Catholic Elementary Teacher’s Association, said in an interview on Friday. “I’m disgusted and embarrassed by it.”
Mr. Brock said the union agreed to concessions without seeking “one iota” of input from local bargaining groups. He plans to explore every avenue to unwind it, including going to the province’s Labour Relations Board.
School boards are also pushing back, accusing the government of focusing too much on the bottom line and making concessions to the teacher’s unions that could be harmful to students. The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) raised these concerns in a letter sent to Education Minister Laurel Broten.
Association vice-president Lori Lukinuk said in an interview on Friday that the province’s focus on financial issues such as salaries and sick days has overshadowed items that could directly affect the classroom.
“We all understand the fiscal realities, but student achievement and well-being seem to be forgotten,” she said.
The government reached a deal last month with the Catholic teachers’ union by taking the unprecedented step of cutting the school boards out of the process. The deal gave teachers in the 45,000-member union a two-year pay freeze, three unpaid professional development days, fewer sick days, and blocks them from banking unused ones.
The government wants a two-year salary freeze to help eliminate the province’s $15-billion deficit. In exchange, it is promising to preserve full-day kindergarten and protect caps on elementary class sizes.
Grahame Rivers, a spokesman for Ms. Broten, said in an e-mail that the provincial government had already “done the heavy lifting” in the agreement with the English Catholic teachers' union.
“Now we need boards to work with us,” he said. If unions and boards do not sign contracts by Aug. 31, he said, automatic 5.5 per cent pay hikes kick in the next day.
“I don’t believe there’s any school board that will have their contracts ready for Aug. 31,” said Greg Pietersma, chair of the Upper Canada District School Board. “I know we certainly won’t.”