In the midst of all of the reporting on the pandemic crisis, there was some good news from the labour relations front. In Ontario, three of the four unions representing teachers announced that they had reached tentative collective bargaining agreements with the province.
As reported by Global News, both the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) were able to negotiate revised working conditions. The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), representing its elementary and secondary school teachers, was able to reach a tentative agreement as noted in this news posting.
From a process perspective, once a tentative agreement is reached between the representatives of all parties, the details of the agreement must be voted on by their respective memberships in order for it to be ratified. Ratification means that the agreement is final, and the terms of the new collective agreement are in place for each of the unions and their employer. The OECTA membership announced the successful ratification of the revised terms as noted in this article. The ETFO and AEFO agreements are still pending.
Does this mean that the collective bargaining process is over?
In Ontario, public education for elementary and secondary schools are governed by numerous pieces of legislation. These include the Labour Relations Act, the Education Act, and the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act, 2014. Needless to say, teaching is a highly prescriptive and heavily regulated profession resulting in an occasionally complicated approach to labour relations.
Prior to the implementation of the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act, 2014, individual school boards would negotiate collective agreements with their local bargaining units, representing the teachers within their jurisdiction. As each agreement was reached, there was a tweak, or a better term negotiated, that caused a laddering effect from board to board. This resulted in inconsistent terms within agreements based on local or regional resources.
With the implementation of the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act, 2014, common items for all school boards pertaining to wages and working conditions are negotiated at the provincial level and implemented locally once ratified. As noted in the news articles, each school board will continue to negotiate with its local bargaining unit to address any outstanding issues that pertain to the local community.
At the beginning of April 2020, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) and the province renewed their talks at the bargaining table with a changed approach. The bargaining process between these two parties was particularly hostile and aggressive, resulting in limited progress towards any agreement. As noted in this news article, what forced a change between the two parties was the impact of the pandemic crisis.
With the province abandoning its use of flaming rhetoric, the hostile environment on both sides appears to be diminished. Presently, there appears to be a more open space that will allow the parties to focus on the issues that are important, using a calm and reasonable approach, in order to achieve a mutually satisfactory settlement.
No matter if it is local or provincial, the continued need to listen in any bargaining process is critical as a means to reach a peaceful settlement in these truly turbulent times.
- Browse through different websites for teacher unions in Canada. What information is posted about the collective bargaining process and the union’s role? What information is available that identifies issues for local bargaining?
- If you were representing the province at the bargaining table with the teacher unions, which approach would work best for you? Aggressive or conciliatory? Explain your rationale.