The School Boards Collective Bargaining Act (the “SBCBA”) was initially introduced in 2014. It forms the legal structure for two-tiered bargaining (central and local) for the vast majority of unionized, public education sector employees in Ontario. Prior to the SBCBA, the only formal bargaining structure that existed in this sector was for local bargaining between school boards and the respective unions. The provincial government (the “Crown”) had never been a party.
The SBCBA set out specifically to create a provincial table in which the Crown participates as the creator of policy and as the direct funding source for public education in Ontario since the late 1990s. The SBCBA entirely transformed the landscape for local bargaining.
Now, to determine what items belong at the provincial/central table and what can be bargained locally, the SBCBA sets out quite simply that: the parties must agree on which items are matters for central bargaining, or the Ontario Labour Relations Board (the “OLRB”) decides what should be. For all matters which are omitted or not discussed, they may be brought up at local bargaining.
Decisions of the OLRB on what items are central are based on the following: whether the item could have a significant impact on (i) the implementation of education policy, or (ii) on expenditures for one or more school boards; (iii) whether it is a common issue more appropriately addressed in central bargaining; and (iv) any other factors the OLRB considers relevant. All monetary or financial items to date have been confirmed to belong at the central table.
With respect to what central bargaining looks like on the ground, OSSTF/FEESO is a party at two central tables: the Education Worker (“EW”) Table, and the Teacher/Occasional Teacher (“T/OT”) Table.
For the EW Table, the party representing the school boards is the Council of Trustees’ Association (the “CTA”), made up of Ontario’s four school board associations (ACÉPO, AFOCSC, OCSTA, OPSBA – glossary here). This bargaining table is slightly more crowded than the T/OT Table, where the sole party representing the school boards is OPSBA. Agents of the Crown sit at both tables, including legal counsel and staff. However, the Minister of Education has never been present at the bargaining table.
Typically, a first step in both local and central bargaining is to meet for introductions and establish ground rules for meetings.
In the next issue: What are ground rules for negotiations?