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Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 804
April 13, 2013

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Why I’m Voting No

OSSTF and Ontario Teachers

Jason Kunin

Teachers in Ontario may not know it, but their actions in this coming week will have huge ramifications for unionized workers across Ontario and across the country. We stand poised either to hold the line against the austerity agenda and mounting attacks on workers, or pave the way for escalating attacks on the labour movement.

After a year that has seen the provincial Liberal government strip education workers of their collective bargaining rights and legislate strips to our wages and benefits that took decades of struggle to win, public secondary teachers in Ontario will be voting this week on whether to accept a peace deal that offers some minor improvements over the “contract” imposed four months ago by Bill 115 but which leaves most of the major strips intact.

The deal, which was hammered out over several weeks of negotiations, is being touted by the elected leaders of our union, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), as the best we can hope for.

If ratified, the deal would see us agree to many of the provisions we have spent the last year fighting against. These include a two-year wage freeze, a grandfathering of banked sick days, and delayed movement up the salary grid for younger teachers, who are already being told to accept a future of diminished expectations. To make this more palatable, we are being offered small improvements in maternity leave and some language around job security.

Collective Bargaining?

If we don't accept this deal, we are told, the alternative is the imposed “agreement,” and the government has said they will negotiate no further if the deal is rejected. We would also be prohibited from taking legal job action. So it's one or the other.

Being asked to vote with a hammer over your head is not collective bargaining. It is not democracy either. Regardless of what you think of teachers, we should all be very worried when a government reduces corporate taxes for nine years then makes it illegal for workers to ask for a raise.

Leaving aside the question of whether the imposed agreement still leaves teachers better off than most workers in Ontario, it is essential to consider the precedent a yes vote would establish for organized labour. Not only would we be giving our consent to the tactic of bargaining at gunpoint, but we would be sanctioning its use across other sectors and with other unions. It would become a model for governments across the country to replicate.

Our leaders have reminded us that public sentiment is very much against unions right now. Any government, even one led by a “progressive” like Kathleen Wynne, cannot be seen as conceding too much to labour. Unions, in turn, must be careful of not asking for too much or making too many demands, lest we turn public sentiment even more against us and provoke a backlash that brings to power Tim Hudak and his rabidly anti-labour Conservatives, who are already threatening to scrap the Rand formula and make Ontario a “right-to-work” province.

Despite having been betrayed by all three major parties, the leadership of our union, like most unions in the province, seems unable to conceive of what political struggle looks like outside of the outdated model of electoral politics. Naturally, they are eager to get back on familiar ground and reestablish the cozy relationship they had with the Liberals for most of the last decade, one that saw teachers largely exempt from the attacks on workers in virtually every other sector, from manufacturing to public service. Even our fellow education workers, such as classroom assistants, secretaries, and caretaking staff, have been losing jobs and job security for years while enduring stagnating wages and deteriorating working conditions.

A Hudak government would be a disaster for teachers, and for labour in general, but all three parties have bought into the corporate austerity agenda, and any one of the three in power would continue to take us down that road – at different paces, certainly, and with varying degrees of brutality, but the end destination will be the same. This is why a political strategy that requires us to hold our noses and throw our support behind the best of the worst is a long-term recipe for disaster.

Third Choice

There is a third choice ... and that is to follow the example of students in Quebec and teachers in Chicago: to engage the public directly through our members, to fight politically, and to use civil disobedience if necessary.

If the largest, richest union in Ontario cannot bring itself to fight the austerity agenda with everything it's got, who will? The fact is, there is a third choice beyond deciding whether to let the government strip us of our hard-fought benefits or agree to strip them away ourselves, and that is to follow the example of students in Quebec and teachers in Chicago: to engage the public directly through our members, to fight politically, and to use civil disobedience if necessary.

This will require some internal rebuilding and an empowerment of union members through more participatory structures of governance and a move away from the centralized model of decision-making that tends to make the rank-and-file feel alienated and helpless. This may not be as difficult to do as some might think given the small “c” conservative reputation of teachers.

Five months ago, teachers in Hamilton, Niagara, and York Region defied their local union leaders by soundly rejecting tentative agreements that surrendered to the provisions of Bill 115. It was an incredible and unprecedented moment in OSSTF history, because it demonstrated something we often forget, that the union is us – that we are the leaders. I hope we can show that leadership once again right now and make it clear that we don't accept any limits on the democratic rights of workers, no matter how they're packaged or who is telling us we have no choice.

For this reason, I will be voting no. •

Jason Kunin is a former branch president and member of District 12 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF).


#16 Alexander Godkin 2013-04-18 22:50 EST
Thanks for the letter
I shared this letter with ETFO members on the FB page.
SO far, it seems to me, everyone is very quiet.

Cannot add more to the rest of the comments, except one thing: to be strong we need to unite all education unions and reach out to the public as a political party.

#15 Anonymous 2013-04-18 17:40 EST
a new union
Seeing as OSSTF has by agreeing to this deal discriminated against younger teachers, I think it is time to challenge our conscripted membership and organise a Union that knows what 'together' and 'solidarity' means. This past leadership can be found under 'pathetic'.

#14 Anonymous 2013-04-17 19:44 EST
I'm with you nay sayers. I will vote no on principle. I pay my OSSTF fees with the expectation that my working conditions, and those of my colleagues, are first and foremost in the minds of our union leadership. All of the work and sacrifice of teachers before us were tossed out the moment our leaders went to 'bargain' with the government, who once again set the parameters for the supposed "collective bargaining". Give me Earl Manners with a toothbrush in his back pocket in preparation for jail any day before Ken Coran and the other bunch who are selling us short just to have "peace." Whatever happened to our local bargaining? Our leaders walked right back into the goon's lair, after standing their ground and demanding local bargaining, making a sweetheart deal with the devil on behalf of the whole province. Wish I could withdraw my union fee now - wasted because I no longer have true representation. Tossed out my banked sick days with nary a wink, gave up any wage increase, trying to convince me to take days off without pay, but still do all of the work and marking so the board can save money - all in order to cozy up to the Liberals. Next, they will recommend voting Liberals because they are afraid of the Cons. Let's vote NDP and Green just to fracture the political parties. I am so disappointed in flaccid OSSTF leadership. Vote NO, NO, NO.

#13 Yaacov Iland 2013-04-14 09:33 EST
What do you mean when you write "the outdated model of electoral politics"?

#12 Anonymous 2013-04-14 09:08 EST
Not voting, electronically voting with a PIN number is not in anyway anonymous. Hence a disgraceful offense to those who have shed the blood and soul for that right. Shame on those who chose this procedure.

#11 Anonymous 2013-04-14 08:50 EST

The current sound bite around the economy and the deficit is that we need austerity measures to deal with tough economic times. Is our current financial situation a result of overspending or is it as a result of a revenue shortfall? Revenue shortfall is what it is. As Jason points out, this government has cut corporate tax rates continually. There is another huge one scheduled for this July. Take a look at the corporate tax cuts in Ontario.

Historic Corporate tax rates in Ontario
Bob Rae -- low as 13.5%, high as 14.5%
Mike Harris -- low as 11%, high as 13.5%
Dalton McGuinty -- low as 10% (as of July 1, 2013), high as 11%

If the government of the day were to increase corporate taxes, millions (if not billions) could be generated. If you look to the mining sector, currently mining companies only pay 10% corporate tax. If they are in the far north, the rate is cut in half to 5%.

"If Ontario were to reform its Mining Tax to recoup on average a modest 5% of the gross value of mineral production there would be an increase in $200 million a year based on 2010 production. With the increased prices for gold and other minerals mined in Ontario the actual revenues could be considerably higher. Not enough to erase the deficit but not exactly chump change and enough to keep a few schools open." (Source: Mining Watch Canada)

Where is the real problem? Is it with "overpaid" public workers or is it with governments who bend over backwards to appease corporations?

#10 Anonymous 2013-04-14 08:44 EST
Voted "NO"
I voted "NO"! This "deal", as Jason Kunin aptly points out, is not collectively bargained when it follows the parameters dictated by Bill 115. There was a thug in that room telling us to sign. I will not do this. I will fight for what my grandfather was beaten for fighting for--the right to organize and the right to collectively bargain.

This battle for workers' rights goes beyond us at present and in the future. How shameful that in just two generations we would lose what several generations have fought for. I owe it to my children, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren to continue to fight.

#9 Anonymous 2013-04-13 23:45 EST

I am voting YES- most of the people I have talked to are voting yes. Why? Because this contract was collectively bargained. Our elected leaders sat down with the elected leaders of our government and negotiated this deal. Did we lose on this deal? For sure. Should we be guaranteed that every contract improves our standard of living? Of course not. And based on the raise we got 4 years ago as others suffered during the worst part of the recession, we are still well ahead of the average worker.

The fact that the province's economic situation is not our fault is irrelevant. When a factory cancels a shift is it necessarily that the workers were lazy and incompetent? No. Reality is the province, our employer, has had some hard economic times. Unfortunately, this impacts us.

What am I going to do about it? I am going to move forward. Teach to the best of my ability, give as much time as I can to help my students in the classroom and outside of it and hope to educate a generation that will lead Ontario to better economic times.

#8 Anonymous 2013-04-13 16:14 EST

I'm voting no in district 1.

#7 Sylvia Smith 2013-04-13 16:06 EST
Why I'm voting no.
This is an extremely astute writer. And history DOES repeat itself.

It's time for leadership to happen from the bottom up, because leadership from the top, in times of crisis, cannot help implicating itself in the power structures that are already there. This always happens when the rank and file are distanced from the people and structures that are "working for us". We're disconnected from the "top".

There's an opportunity here to do this. Voting "no" means that we are taking a big chance--we will probably even lose, in the short-term, much needed bucks. But what we would gain in the long-term, is the probability of a renewed sense of purpose and of collective solidarity. It means members will have to ready to face opposition and be able to defend our stance confidently. And we must KNOW OUR HISTORY.

I'm voting no. I'll be glad to vote no. And I'm proud to be able to vote "no" because I'd rather die with dignity facing the enemy standing up than be found kneeling before the bullies. This is a paraphrasing of Dr. Cindy Blackstock, who has been fighting the enemy for 6 years after the Federal Government cut off all funding for the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society when they lodged a Human Rights discrimination complaint against them.

It's time for us to see ourselves as part of a larger movement. Let's "Idle No More". Let us, as teachers, show our union leaders, from our actions at the bottom, what we want and what we need.

Thank you, chi-meegwetch!

#6 curveball 2013-04-13 15:54 EST
I agree - here's my spin on it
Thank you for helping to have the no side heard. Here is a link to my spin on why we should overwhelmingly be voting no.

#5 Anonymous 2013-04-13 12:47 EST
thank you
It appears that the main concern of our union leaders is that they might end up back in a classroom working for the wages we get.

#4 Lincoln 2013-04-13 12:24 EST
Strategy (poor)
Regrettably, win or lose this battle, the context has been set for M of Ed. "teachers as a group" negotiation. Bad strategy on the part of OSSTF. Harris began the movement with the mega-boards and now there is a clear danger of the Province completing his work long after he left.

#3 Anonymous 2013-04-13 11:00 EST
Totally agree! This deal covers many osstf affiliates now, representing many different kinds of workers in education. Each affiliate has very different starting contracts. This deal seems to have been able to get more improvements for some affiliates and few for teachers who form the majority of the federation. There is nothing but a better short term sick plan for teachers here. Pay decreases through unpaid days, loss of gratuity or freezing of gratuity, short term sick days at 90%, all strips. Gratuities were negotiated away by some districts, so this huge loss means nothing for some members, who can through this vote, effectively concede to the strip for other members who through tough bargaining maintained this benefit. For a federation who talk equality by always saying "a teacher is a teacher is a teacher" when it comes to not creating language to protect "different" teaching positions like Spec Ed Teachers, Guidance, and Librarians, leaving them vulnerable to abuse by administrators, they now create a deal to cover very different employees having very different working conditions.

The deal also seems to attempt to equalize contracts across the province, where differences in language and protection mean that certain provisions of the deal benefit some and not others. E.g maternity provisions do not improve some Districts since they had good language. But those who see improvements may vote for it. I fear in future, that deals could continue to hurt some members while helping others as PE panders for enough votes to pass the deal.

Does a "yes" vote "help" our Charter challenge? PE says yes. Really? This deal is by no means freely collectively bargained nor was it bargained under, as Ken said, "conditions more like we used to have for bargaining". Neither is it an acceptable deal, when framed in a "best we can do", "nothing more to get", "cannot go back to the table" rhetoric. This rhetoric sounds more like an employer's statement as they present their final offer than a federation that is fighting for my rights and benefits.

It was our federation that painted us into a corner where we have no weapons, but illegal strike action. A federation that tells members to give up their leverage tactics, BEFORE they vote on a settlement, is obviously caving in to the pressure of the employer (the gov't) and wants to have this over to save face before a new leadership team takes over.

We have no decided process for the next round. Next round, will teacher conditions be the focus for improvement or will support staff again have priority? Will the gov't not bring another list of strips to a PDT. with equally limited desire to "bargain"? We have no guarantees but may pass this deal anyway.

I argue, there is still leverage. The gov't needs this to be settled as much as our membership want it to be. The OLP may still be our best bet in the next election, but we cannot get into political games, but must determine what our stance is and stick to it. If, God help us, it means fighting with the conservatives again, then so be it. All parties have attacked our rights when it was politically expedient to them. This new era of politics, seems to no longer even attempt to massage politics into their policy, but overtly defines politics as policy.

Why not political disobedience? OLP strategy was to divide and subdivide and conquer. Our fight to engage others by saying they may be next seemed to fail. No one seems to worry until they are the victims. Their strategic move to attack what is mainly a female profession is critical. Not firefighters, not police but teachers. I worry for the nurses when their deal comes up. Members were up for the challenge, but our PE didn't have the stomach for a real fight. Hell OSSTF did not even organize a general protest by themselves, but piggy-backed on others.

Members need to know how this vote comes out by affiliate. If teachers turn it down, even by a slight margin, a strong yes by support and other affiliates may result in an overall yes vote. This reporting decision is pure and simply an attempt to manipulate the message. I did not make the decision to recruit other education workers into my federation, I certainly did not allow my federation to negotiate for their rights at the expense of my own working conditions. I want to know how my teaching colleagues vote!

#2 Anonymous 2013-04-13 08:07 EST
Voting NO
Well said Jason! Let's use this as an enormously timely teachable moment. Educating the public should be our union's priority - not making nice with the government. This is NOT a 'deal' that we should have in our union's legacy. Teacher's have always taken a courageous stand. What has happened to us? Let's do our jobs as public servants and alert the public to this huge erosion of people's rights!

#1 La Lutte 2013-04-13 07:02 EST
History tends to repeat itself. Unions must continue to "organize, educate & resist" when an injustice occurs. Jason Kunin has expressed my sentiment and the sentiments of many others very clearly. Stand your ground and stick together in order to stand proud. There is a choice for social justice by voting in solidarity with a strong voice. That voice is "No!"

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