Squandered opportunity

Editorial cartoon

With the swift passage of Bill 92, the School Boards Collective Bargaining Amendment Act, the provincial Liberal government essentially proclaimed that it is simply not interested in the concerns of OSSTF/FEESO and other unions when it comes to the collective bargaining process in Ontario’s education sector.

Bill 92 was a perfect opportunity for the government to address fundamental structural flaws in the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act (SBCBA), the legislation that governs bargaining for union members employed by school boards in Ontario. Indeed, when the SBCBA came into effect in 2014, the government committed to undertake a full review of the Act following the first round of negotiations under the Act’s framework.

OSSTF/FEESO took that commitment seriously, and the prospect of a thorough review became increasingly important as that first round of bargaining wore on, exposing the process as deeply flawed on many levels. Negotiations under the SBCBA resulted in the largest strikes involving full withdrawals of services by OSSTF/FEESO members in 40 years. Those strikes were resolved not through the bargaining process, but by back-to-work legislation. In some Districts, selective job actions continued for months with no resolution. The process was shown over and over again to be virtually unworkable, and it would require more than a year of frustrating bargaining sessions before agreements were finally reached at the central tables. Some local agreements were not reached until more than two years after the process began.

By any reasonable standard, the first round of bargaining under the SBCBA was nothing less than a prolonged exercise in exasperation and an abject failure. But when it came time for the government to work with us and take a good, hard look at the process, the Education Minister and her staff simply looked away from all the tangible evidence, buried their heads in the sand and declared the first round of negotiations to have been an unequivocal success. Speaking in the legislature, the Minister referred to the SBCBA as a “successful piece of legislation” that had “facilitated the return to a strong, respectful and collaborative partnership between the government and its education sector partners,” and achieved “positive outcomes for school communities across the province.”

How any of these descriptors apply to a process that generated prolonged strikes, back-to-work legislation, and more than two full years of mostly unproductive bargaining is a mystery to us. The Liberals, however, apparently see no contradiction at all between the Minister’s glowing review and the chaotic mess created by the SBCBA. The government ignored all of OSSTF/FEESO’s recommendations and, with the full support of Patrick Brown and the Progressive Conservatives, passed an amendment act that merely tinkers around the edges and fails to address any of the fundamental problems with the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act.

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