Convinced of the commitment of the governing Liberals to tackle issues important to members of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) in a spirit of good faith, the ETFO is advising teachers to resume their provision of extracurricular activities for students.
The ETFO had suspended extracurricular activities in response to the infamously repressive Putting Students First Act, which the Ontario Liberals had enacted to restrict union bargaining rights and impose on the teachers various cuts to sick days and a wage cut in the form of unpaid development days.
Once Kathleen Wynne assumed leadership of the provincial Liberal Party talks that had been suspended by the PSFA under Dalton McGuinty resumed. The Globe and Mail reports that these renewed talks are purported to focus on protecting the bargaining rights of the teachers. The unions are giving the new Premier a chance to prove she’s not a carbon copy of her predecessor. They are giving her a chance to prove she has an interest in respecting the rights of the working men and women of this province. While nothing concrete has so far been made public to suggest Ms. Wynne will be a friend to organized labour, the talks may yet confirm the hope that she intends to relate to organized labour fairly.
Of course, dead set against anything that might benefit unions, the Ontario Conservatives are charging that Ms. Wynne must have given the ETFO some kind of preferential treatment. Otherwise, the Conservatives argue, the ETFO would not have restored extracurricular activities. Kathleen Wynne, however, stated that there are no special deals and that the discussions have been focused largely on what the “…collective bargaining process will look like going forward.” Are the Conservatives so jaded that they cannot believe a union would restore extracurriculars in a spirit of good faith while negotiations are proceeding? Or do the Conservatives believe there is so little reason to respect the rights of a union to be involved in discussions regarding its future, that the only way the discussions could be progressing well enough for the ETFO to restore extracurriculars would be if there is some sort of backroom deal brewing? It seems that, with few exceptions, politicians in this province have been too busy viewing unions with their own biases to see clearly.
Throughout this process the ETFO has masterfully balanced protection of the rights of its members with the union’s interests in negotiating with the government. In suspending extracurricular activities until it could be assured that the government was willing to negotiate in good faith, the ETFO sent a clear message that it would not be lured in by promises that could have proved empty.
All of the teachers unions in Ontario have at once responded to the terrible powers exercised by the McGuinty Liberals with united opposition and an impressive reasonableness in managing their ongoing negotiations with Kathleen Wynne. If this government has more sense than its predecessor, the good faith and respect displayed by the unions will be met in kind.
There is a workable solution to the problems between the government and the teachers’ unions and ETFO’s recent decision to restore extracurriculars may be one of many steps toward a peaceful resolution to these tensions.