Vote No: An Open Letter to OSSTF Members

OSSTF rallyBy Jason Kunin, Seth Bernstein, and Amina Ally

After nearly a year of negotiations, during which time we were without a collective agreement, the Provincial Executive of our union, Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), has reached a tentative agreement with the Liberal government.  As OSSTF members, we cannot vote in favour of this agreement and we urge our fellow members to vote no on September 16, when we will be asked to ratify it.

For three years, we have seen our incomes eroded by a legislated wage freeze, forced unpaid days off, and delayed grid movement.  The proposed agreement does not compensate for these lost wages. While conservative estimates generally put inflation at 2% a year, the price of food and, in Toronto, housing, have gone up much more rapidly.  A one-time 1% signing bonus does nothing to change the fact that we are being asked to accept a mere 1.5% raise after half a decade, a raise that would actually see the real value of our incomes eroded by roughly 10%.

Fending off OPSBA’s demands of strips to class caps and supervision language is not a victory. The lack of a strip is not a gain. We did not negotiate anything in this contract that addresses the steady attrition of staffing resources in schools. We should be demanding smaller class sizes and more guidance allocations. We should be demanding a change to the funding formula. This agreement does not bode well for support staff and their negotiations, as we desperately need more psychologists and social workers in our buildings, nor does it support CUPE and its attempt to stem the attrition in our main offices.

As teachers and education workers, we care about the learning conditions of our students. We believe schools should be well staffed, well maintained, and well supplied. We care that our students have the good facilities and manageable class sizes they need to learn properly.

What we reject are the arbitrary “zero-net” parameters that pit the needs of students against the living wages of the people who teach and support them.  Contrary to being a drain on resources, the people who staff the school are the most important resources.

As a female-dominated profession, we continue to have to fight the kinds of expectations that are often attached to women’s labour. Our society still to a large extent sees the taking care of children as women’s natural roles, not as jobs deserving of financial compensation. These kinds of cultural assumptions were only reinforced when our provincial leadership kept repeating publically during negotiations that salary was not a concern.

Teachers require several years of costly university training and certification, and many of us are struggling to pay off student loans while also trying to raise families of our own. Those who came before us fought hard over many years to ensure that our salaries were able to meet those professional needs and provide us with a wage that with experience and seniority is fair and commensurate with our level of training and education.  Yet this will change over the long-term if we accept the erosion of our income by refusing to demand basic cost-of-living increases.

If ratified, this agreement will undermine not only our colleagues in OECTA and ETFO, who will be pressured to make similar salary concessions, but our colleagues in other public and private sector unions, for whom this agreement will serve as a template for management to lower the bar of expectations. It is also an insult to our colleagues in Durham, Rainbow, and Peel, who spent weeks on the picket lines last spring fighting for a fair deal.

The Liberals claim no new money and fiscal realities while they fund velodromes and give corporate welfare to profitable companies. Meanwhile, our schools fall apart. If we, such a large collection of workers, won’t take a stand against this madness, then who will?

While corporations sit on hoards of cash thanks to decades of generous and steady tax cuts, the rest of us are being asked to accept austerity. We refuse to continue to subsidize corporations that have sucked money from workers and from our public institutions in return for promises of jobs that they continue to cut and outsource rather than create.  We need to make different choices from the false ones imposed by the logic of “zero-net.”

That choice begins here. Vote no.

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4 thoughts on “Vote No: An Open Letter to OSSTF Members

  1. Vote NO !
    The OSSTF tentative provincial agreement fails to meet the needs of substitute teachers

    OSSTF negotiators at the central bargaining table achieved a very small wage increase, one additional Professional Development Day, and the status quo on class size and teachers’ use of preparation time.

    Not very inspiring? Well, it is actually worse than it appears.

    The wage increase is 0% in 2014-2015. There is a 1 per cent lump sum payment, issued per pay period and only to an Occasional Teacher for each day worked in 2015-2016 (which adds nothing to the pay grid). And there is a miserable 1.5% raise in 2016-2017. Over the three year period, this falls short of the rate of inflation. Thus, it amounts to a wage cut.

    The added Professional Development day is fine for contract teachers, but for most substitute teachers it is just one more pay-less day. Evidently, OSSTF negotiators did not even turn their minds to requiring school boards to include all subs in P.D. activities with pay.

    But the biggest let-down concerns the most important issue for substitute teachers – job security. Without regular and frequent teaching assignments, a pay increase is almost pointless. The only way to ensure that subs get enough work to make a decent living is to Cap the OT dispatch list at each school board.

    Seems like a local issue? Not really. OSSTF could obtain from the provincial government a commitment that the number of names on OT dispatch lists will not exceed a set percentage of the number of full-time teachers in each school board’s secondary panel. Let’s say, 15%. So, at a board with 5,000 secondary school teachers, the OT secondary panel dispatch list would be limited to 750 substitute teachers. The number can be achieved by attrition, so no OT presently on a list need be forcibly removed if s/he remains willing and able to work.

    Remember Regulation 274? It forces principals to use seniority when hiring LTOs and permanent teachers? Unions secured that rule provincially. Why not get a provincial Cap on dispatch lists?

    The problem is that OSSTF top officials have shown almost no concern about OT job security. And the Toronto OTBU executive is worse. It has not only failed to make this a priority, a strike issue, but it has tried to shift the blame for its treachery onto its critics. As a result, the OTBU executive now faces a Complaint at Judicial Council for disseminating libelous, vexatious and defamatory misinformation about a member, thus violating the requirements of courtesy and good faith stipulated in the OSSTF Ethics Bylaws. And it faces the prospect of a libel suit in an Ontario court.

    Resisting contract strips demanded by government is not enough. Does this tentative agreement rise to the level of solidarity that teachers expect and deserve in our battle against the underfunding of education, against austerity, and to reverse the relentless corporate agenda? No.

    This deal fails to meet the needs of substitute teachers, and that is reason enough for all education workers to reject ratification, to Vote NO. After all, ‘an injury to one is an injury to all.’

    From September 10 until September 18 you can vote by calling 1-877-365-4314.

    Vote NO.

  2. Vote NO.

    Because there is no “me too” clause. If ETFO gets better wages, OSSTF is stuck with what they have. Medical/dental benefits for occasional teachers will end. The 1% lump sum payout for for occasional teachers will be paid in July 2016, and will be clawed back from occasional teachers employment insurance.

    OSSTF should be ashamed of themselves. Vote No. The OSSTF negotiations committee should resign and replaced by competent R&F people.

  3. A “No” vote does not guarantee a better deal. An arbitrated deal, at best, will reflect concessions made by other bargaining units.

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