McGuinty strikes deal with Catholic school teachers
Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten addresses a news conference in Toronto, Monday, April 9, 2012. With contracts expiring in August, Broten appealed to elementary school teachers to return to a provincial discussion table to help set the framework for negotiations. (Colin Perkel / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Thursday, July 5, 2012 10:57AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 5, 2012 8:41PM EDT
The ruling Ontario Liberals struck a deal with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association Thursday, averting a potential labour disruption in the new school year.
The agreement may be the first step for the Liberals towards slaying a $15-billion deficit.
The union representing the teachers agreed to a two-year wage freeze and three unpaid “professional development days” in the second year of the contract.
Government officials say the unpaid professional development days amount to a 1.5-per-cent pay cut. The same will apply to principals and vice-principals.
The union is the first one to break ranks with other teachers’ unions which have refused to negotiate with the government, which has called for a wage freeze.
Union president Kevin O’Dwyer said the deal strikes the right balance between fiscal responsibility and fair compensation.
"We have reached an agreement that is fair and reasonable, that acknowledges the fiscal challenges that are facing this province, and ensures that everyone -- from the director of education down to the first-year teacher -- shares in these fiscal restraints," O'Dwyer said.
O’Dwyer also said that families can rest assured that classes will resume this fall.
“They can predict this summer that this fall they’ll have uninterrupted class and instruction. I think that’s good for Ontario, for students and parents and it’s also good for our members,” he said.
Under the new agreement, teachers will no longer be allowed to bank sick days. Also, the number of sick days they will be granted a year will be cut from 20 to 10.
But the sick days that have already been collected and banked will be protected, meaning that teachers may still cash them out when they retire.
O’Dwyer said that there are 10 professional development days a year that teachers are obligated to show up to work for. However, under the new agreement the province has agreed to let teachers take the three unpaid days off.
The government also wants to freeze the pay grid for teachers, so that no one gets a raise because of seniority or improved credentials.
But by agreeing to the three unpaid days, the union avoided the proposed salary freeze, allowing younger teachers to continue to move up the pay scale, said O’Dwyer.
Currently, an Ontario teacher’s starting salary ranges between $41,766 to $44,292.
Elementary school teachers can make up to $92,813 and high school teachers can make up to $94,942 depending on years of service and education level.
Thursday’s deal may have a significant impact on the negotiations with the other unions.
The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, the most vocal opponent of the Liberal’s wage freeze demands, wouldn't comment on Thursday’s deal.
But the union, which represents 76,000 education workers, is holding a joint news conference on Friday with three other unions representing teachers and other education workers.
In the past ETFO has called the government’s demands “insulting” and walked away from voluntary discussions with the province after just one hour.
O’Dwyer said OECTA isn’t breaking ranks with the other unions and that each union has an opportunity to negotiate for themselves.
"Some left early in the process, some left later in the process," he said.
"But frankly, I'm going to respect that they did what they felt was best for their members. We did the same thing," he added.
Education Minister Laurel Broten said the deal with OECTA will serve as a “road map” for bargaining with all the other unions and urged them to step back to the bargaining table over the summer.
"Many people thought that this day would never come, that we would never agree, that we were too far apart," she said. "But this agreement demonstrates the value of partnership."
But New Democrat Gilles Bisson said that Thursday’s deal doesn’t set an automatic precedent for the other unions.
"Each union is different, they have different issues, so the government should not take this as a victory lap and flaunt it as a pattern for what's going to happen with the other unions," said Bisson.
Progressive Conservative education critic Lisa MacLeod said the agreement is far from a victory and that she doubts whether the deal will actually result in savings.
"I'm not sure necessarily that this is going to save us any money or prevent any labour disruptions," she said.
MacLeod said the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association, which left the negotiating table Wednesday night, was upset to learn that a deal had been reached behind its back.
In an email obtained by the Tories, OCSTA said it left the talks because there remained "significant" issues that it couldn't accept.
"We are dismayed at the dangerous precedent this agreement sets as to how this government interprets its commitment to its educational partners and labour relations more broadly," the email said.
OCSTA said it was never informed that there was a deal in the works between OECTA and the government.
“We are firmly opposed to any agreement made without our boards involved," they said.
Thursday’s deal is just one of many that the Liberals are trying to broker with the other teachers’ unions to save some $250 million in 2013, as well as a one-time savings of $1.4 billion.
The Liberals have threatened to legislate a wage freeze if agreements cannot be made.
With files from The Canadian Press