Ganging Up on Teachers

Jonathan McLeod

January 25, 2013 | 2 Comments

There’s an interesting development in the ongoing labour dispute between the teachers unions and the Ontario government. Not only do we have unions fighting the government, but we now have school boards picking fights with its teachers:

On Friday, the Upper Canada District School Board, which serves a wide area south of Ottawa, intends to argue before the Ontario Labour Relations Board that the ongoing job action forced on teachers by their union amounts to “an illegal or unlawful strike.”

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) sent out a notice Jan. 14 telling its members their contract only requires them to work five hours a day and no more. It lists several duties, such as daily planning, preparation and complete comments on report cards, as voluntary.

If I had to guess, I’d say that the teacher’s union is more likely to know what constitutes the legal requirements of its teachers, rather than school board trustees. Regardless, this highlights a significant problem with the provinces heavy-handed treatment of public school teachers. The province, with its legislatively-imposed contract*, has already robbed the teachers of their right to negotiate their contract, and, if negotiations fail, strike. When the union planned a protest a few weeks ago, the Labour Relations Board ruled that   any planned walkout would be illegal. Basically, the teachers’ freedom of expression was robbed of them because the government already decided how much they would be paid for their work. You know, there used to be a word for that type of working arrangement.

Now, because one level of government (the province) has passed a law taking away the rights of teachers – which was upheld by a tribunal operating under the auspices of that government – another level of government is seeking legal action to force the teachers to do more than their legislatively-imposed contract demands. That is incredibly offensive.

Of course, things would probably be a lot simpler if the government wasn’t effectively a monopoly when it came to the provision of publically-funded education. By not offering some form of school choice, they have given the teachers unions far too much power – making public schools a near essential service. For the government to claim a need to bypass collective bargaining because of the power the union has over publically-funded education is just a bit too rich.

*Yes, I know that the province is rescinding that legislation, but that’s not really germane to this specific issue.


2 Responses to “Ganging Up on Teachers”

  1. Peter
    January 25th, 2013 @ 8:42 am

    Good of you to drop in. Jonathan, I hope you had a great sabbatical, but if you are going to build a better world, you’re going to have to knuckle down and get more serious.

    Legal analyses are fine, but the problem here was captured beautifully by Peanuts many years ago when Charlie Brown and his friends went into a shocked depression when they learned their beloved teacher actually got paid for teaching them. It’s supposed to be a vocation and job-action by teachers will always be seen as a strike against the students. It’s like doctors on work-to-rule refusing to treat sick patients.

    Plus nobody who knows their salaries and benefits feels the slightest bit sorry for them. My wife is a teacher in a small private school. Anyone who tries to tell her how easy teachers have it had better be wearing protective clothing. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t savour delicious moments of schadenfreude whenever anybody sticks it to the public school teachers.


    Jonathan McLeod Reply:

    I’m not arguing that we need feel sorry for the teachers. I don’t even think they’re in the right in this dispute, but that doesn’t mean that the government isn’t acting thuggish (on multiple levels).

    But again, if the government were to take steps to allow more children to go to private schools, the teachers would have far less leverage in any strikes or other job action. We’re seeing a couple of privileged classes here duking it out. There’s no victim in that fight.

    You might say that the students are the victims, which is true. But they’re not the victims of this labour dispute. They’re the victims because they’re locked into this anachronistic education system.


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