Education Unions Protest - My PerspectiveSaturday, January 12, 2013 by: Mac Headrick
Before l get to the specifics of today’s column you should know the following. My personal experiences in education, elementary, secondary and college could be summed up in one word, excellent. Now l certainly wasn’t the most motivated or focused student. I actually didn’t go through high school but under it. Whatever the case, l received a very good education.
The majority of my working career (30 years) was spent in education, the last 23 years being with the Algoma District School Board. Relative to the secondary systems I have personally benefited greatly by the relationships I formed with teachers who coached the various sport teams (especially football and basketball). You might think that in 23 years l may have perhaps interacted with teachers I didn’t like. I honestly cannot recall any examples of this. The only miniscule aggravation I ever had concerned some of the elementary school teachers. Every summer care staff would complain about elementary teachers who wanted access to the school to set up their classrooms. When I was on call I would typically be paged approximately a dozen times by the security company because a teacher working on the weekend would have entered an incorrect security code resulting in an alarm
My point is that I like teachers and have always had a very good relationship (personally and professionally) with them. I can also appreciate their anger and sense of betrayal relative to Bill 115. Apparently the majority of the potential Liberal leadership candidates share the teacher’s position on Bill 115. One of the characteristics of good union leadership is knowing when to fight and conversely understanding there is a time when the best course of action is to retreat. In this manner you get to fight another day. On Wednesday Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, announced that 76,000 teachers would walk off the job on Friday for a day of protest. Of course the walk out was cancelled after the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled that it would be an “illegal strike”.
What was accomplished by this decision on Wednesday by the leadership of ETFO? Well, there was chaos. The Liberal Party won a decision at the OLRB. Parents were once again frustrated and irritated by the teachers union. Dalton McGuinty was proven to be correct in his opinion teachers should continue their battle in the courts. The list goes on.
This week the union leadership of the secondary schools forbade its members to participate in extra curricular activities. I thought these activities were voluntary. Apparently now the union dictates what its members can and cannot do in their spare time. Has anyone thought about the ramifications of not having sports, theatre music etc in the public school secondary system? Parents have choice. They can and will if pushed move their children to the separate school system. This happens on a regular basis both ways. What if a 1,000 students provincially move away from the public system especially in the larger urban areas. The above scenario would result in approximately 40-50 less teaching positions. Is this the goal of public school unions?
Does the name Tim Hudak ring a bell? Even though l disagree with Mr. Hudak’s political philosophy I will acknowledge he is very clear on what he stands for. Tim Hudak dislikes unions and if elected with a majority government would demonstrate his opinion of them in the following ways. Ontario will follow Michigan’s lead in right to work legislation. Wage freezes and reductions in personnel in the public sector will be common place. Contracting out public sector jobs would be a priority for the Conservatives. Now the Conservative leader in Ontario hasn’t connected with the electorate yet. Chaos in the educational sector makes the Liberals look weak. Fine, they made their own political bed. Simultaneously the same unrest makes the Conservatives appear strong and decisive.
Teacher’s jobs will not be contracted out regardless of the party in power. There may be less of them depending on whatever party leads Ontario in the future. For all their faults the Liberal Party under Dalton McGuinty supported education. The press in regards to education always focuses on the teachers. No one seems to realize there are also many support staff also caught up in the battle. I was a supervisor in education for approximately 30 years of which 23 were spent with members of CUPE. Two factors influenced my opinion of these workers. The vast majority of them do a great job. Even the ones that occasionally caused me some grief, but I considered that job security. I guess the second factor is they put up and accepted me. This sometimes was not an easy task. I know it is not the teacher’s union (elementary or secondary) job to look after the support unions. It is my belief that conflict between teachers and government can result in negative results for support unions.
I stress once again that I have always had good relations with and respect the job teachers do. I am not so confident in their union leadership. Now I could be misjudging the union leader’s goals. Perhaps their objective is to help the Conservatives win a majority if an election is held this spring.
What course of action would I suggest the elementary and secondary teachers unions follow? Accept the fact there is a collective agreement in place. Support extra-circular activities. Let the courts decide the fate of Bill 115. In the near future the Liberal Party of Ontario will elect a new leader. Give that individual the opportunity to meet with teachers. It is in the best interest for both sides to explore the mending of their relationship.
As I see it, chaos in the public sector in 1995 resulted in a Mike Harris majority. Have union leaders forgotten the lessons of the past. If not, then history will repeat itself.