Ontario’s two largest teachers’ unions have filed unfair-labour practice complaints against Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government over what they say is the province’s “duplicity” in negotiating salary increases and bargaining in bad faith.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), representing 81,000 education workers, and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), which represents 60,000 workers, filed the complaints with the Ontario Labour Relations Board on Friday.
The unions said the government “engaged in coercion and reprisals” and discriminated against them because they successfully challenged the violation of their members’ constitutional rights in 2012, and that the province bargained in “bad faith” in the 2014 negotiations.
In the meantime, groups that did not bring court actions against the province are in negotiations to benefit from pay increases, the union claimed.
The complaints come after The Globe and Mail reported earlier this week that the Liberal government – heading into an election – was discussing settlements for delays in salary increases with several other education sector unions. It paid the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association $31-million – giving qualifying teachers a one-time payment of $2,000 – after the union won an arbitration ruling on delays in salary raises.
Sam Hammond, president of the ETFO, said in an interview that the payments were “outrageous” and it amounted to the Liberal government ensuring that “their friends” who did not challenge the province receive payouts.
“We undertook and won a pivotal court challenge because our members’ Charter rights had been violated by Bill 115. We are at a loss to understand why the government now feels an obligation to square up with unions that willingly signed onto an agreement, and whose members’ rights were not affected …,” said OSSTF president Harvey Bischof.
The government will be given an opportunity to respond to the Ontario Labour Relations Board complaint. The issue could enter mediation, and if it doesn’t get settled, a hearing could be held.
The OSSTF, the ETFO and three other unions recently won a court challenge that the province violated their collective bargaining rights by introducing Bill 115, a 2012 piece of legislation that, among other things, delayed salary raises and suspended their right to strike.
Several other unions, including the English Catholic teachers and French teachers, were not part of the challenge because they signed off on deals and, therefore, contracts were not imposed on their members.
The Ministry of Education has said that even though these other unions were not part of the court challenge, the government is in talks to reach agreements to ensure they will “not participate in any proceeding … to help mitigate further constitutional challenges.” A ministry spokesman said in a statement earlier this week that the negotiations are about “equity and fairness with all labour partners.”
Mr. Hammond called the government’s comments “absurd” and said there were reprisals being levelled on his members for taking the Liberals to court.
Mr. Bischof said he had no objection with other unions pursuing the interests of their members, but said he is upset by the “government’s duplicity at the bargaining table“ in 2014. The unions said the province bargained in bad faith by consistently representing that all teacher unions would be receiving substantially identical financial settlements for their collective agreements.
The complaint centres on the timing of salary increases. The government extended existing – and contentious – contracts into the 2014-15 school year, which included a salary grid freeze.
The two unions said they were told at the bargaining table to abandon any grievances around those salary grid movements, and that increases would start taking effect again the following year. However, the English Catholic teachers’ union was permitted to continue its grievances, and won in arbitration.
The OSSTF and other unions have reached a remedy with the government in response to the court’s ruling on Bill 115. The ETFO has not done so, and has indicated that it will be returning to court.