Wynne May Legislate Teachers Back To Work,
But Could These Strikes Been Avoided?
By Justin Schmitz and Susanna Kelley
With Premier Wynne ordering striking teachers back to work now that the Education Relations Commission says students' years are in jeopardy, it's instructive to look at how Ontario's educational system got to this point and whether it could have been avoided.
After all, 70,000 high school students have been out of school for weeks now in Sudbury and Peel, and more than a month in Durham, right at the end of the school year.
It's the largest education strike in Ontario since the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) walked off the job in 2002.
The similarities don’t end there.
As was the case in 2002, the argument that teachers should not have the right to strike and should be ordered back to work has surfaced as it always does about this time in any teachers' strike. Parents and students alike are anxious for this to be over, as is normal in any education work stoppage that's gone on for a month, and politicians are feeling the heat.
But some say forcing teachers to work, whether that be through back to work legislation or taking away the right to strike, doesn't work in the long run.
And it doesn't get to the root of the problem, they say.
Hugh Mackenzie, an economist associated with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says that the troubles today can be traced back to the Mike Harris government, which removed the ability of school boards to make independent funding decisions.
“What the Harris Government did, they basically just said to the school boards, here’s the money you’ve got … we’ll cut that amount, and you negotiate with the teacher’s union and do whatever you have to do to get an agreement.”
Under the system brought in by the Harris Tories, he says school boards have only be able to divide up funds from a total envelope pre-determined by the provincial government.
As a result, in the Harris years, the school boards began to cut back on the time teachers use to prepare for their classes, as well as increase class sizes, in order to reallocate funds to the classroom and student needs.
But why would such a small bureaucratic change matter? And more importantly what is the relevance today?
Because preparation time and larger classes are really code words for needing fewer teachers — and cutting their jobs.
Some critics maintain that bargaining with school boards is really just sleight of hand.
They believe the school boards really only continue to exist to serve as flak jackets for the provincial government, protective go-betweens — but ones that lack the necessary autonomy to truly negotiate with the teachers' unions fully.
Critics say the issue has been made worse by Kathleen Wynne’s division of the negotiating table into the central one, to bargain issues the government deemed universal to all boards, and local ones to bargain so-called "local" issues.
Under the current system teachers are only allowed to conduct local strikes over issues that the government itself has assigned to their local bargaining table.
Hence three school boards have complained to the Ontario Labour Relations Board that the issues Ontario Secondary Students Teachers Federation (OSSTF) is arguing about are central ones, not local, and argue that the strike should be deemed illegal.
If there's one organization you'd think would be in favour of banning the right to strike for teachers, it's the right-wing C.D. Howe Institute.
But it's not — if that means mandatory arbitration instead — because such arbitration could mean higher salaries, through arbitrated settlements, for teachers.
Still, a 2009 study published by the C.D. Howe institute says that the effect of a teachers strike can be averaged out to a grade decrease of any where between -0.03% and 0.01% per day for young students.
Mr. Dackis says that elementary grades are likely hit harder by teachers' strikes than those in higher grades.
Students, of course, are caught in the middle:
Still, despite critics on both sides saying letting the negotiations to play themselves out may be best, Kathleen Wynne, armed with a ruling by the Education Relations Commission that students' years are in jeopardy, has decided forcing an end to the strikes are in the best interest of students.