Friday, January 11, 2013

In which I tear a guy a new one.

It's a strange time for public education in this province... as you well know if you (a.) live here, and (b.) don't live under a rock.

Today ETFO, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, was supposed to do a one-day walkout to protest the enacting of Bill 115, which imposes a contract on any teacher in the province that didn't already have one; namely, the public elementary and secondary teachers. (The Catholic union's leadership sold their members down the river by agreeing to a horrendous contract back in the summer without their membership's consent, and the French union finds it hard to negotiate being so small so they took the same lousy deal too.)

Last night -- actually, at 4 am this morning -- the Ontario Labour Relations Board determined that this walkout was, in fact, not a political protest (protected by law) but was an illegal strike (which means possible fines for union leadership and for individual teachers, over and above being docked a day's pay). So, ETFO backed off; our union was supposed to do the same thing next Wednesday, but has since cancelled it.

This has provoked a lot of response, both for and against teachers and their unions. A friend of mine wrote a fairly anti-teacher-union post on his Facebook wall today, and someone he knows (but I don't) took it to a whole new level. This guy's name is Matt (but not the One And Only Matt that I've known for years, don't worry). I felt I had to respond. So here's my response. Enjoy.

Matt, I disagree with you, but I'll do so calmly.

First off: if teaching is a cushy, easy job with glorious benefits, you're much more than welcome to join us. No? Not into spending all day with dozens of crazed teenagers trying to ram knowledge into their heads? Alright, then.

Secondly: the Catholic union's provincial executive accepted a contract. Exactly zero local deals have been ratified by Catholic (or French) teachers. So, representing those contracts as anything less than their union leadership selling them out -- because there's pressure to eliminate Catholic boards entirely -- is a huge misrepresentation.

Thirdly, a few small points: unions essentially agreed to wage freezes in April. Banked sick days also doubled as our short-term disability plan. We don't get vacation pay like many other jobs (nor do we expect it), because our non-working days are scheduled for us. We coach and supervise and volunteer our time because (a.) we enjoy it, and (b.) the kids appreciate it. I coach baseball and supervise a student club, in addition to teaching my timetable, being a department head, and being the school's union rep (full disclosure).

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly: I am an employee, with an employer. I am represented in negotiations by a union, and through it I have the right to negotiate a contract with my employer, without outside interference. Agree with the idea of unions or not, Matt, but (a.) they exist, (b.) I'm in one, and (c.) our ability to bargain with our employer -- the school boards, not the province -- has been sabotaged by the government. Complain about wages and benefits and such all you like -- as you have -- but the facts stated in this paragraph are clear and unambiguously correct. And that's what we're mad about.

Do students get "held hostage" in negotiations? That's debatable. I was a student during two strikes in my high school career, and it was lousy. I don't disagree with that part at all. But I only truly found out what the issues were when I became a teacher myself. That's the problem here: everyone thinks they're an expert in education because they were once a student. Are you an expert in medicine because you were once in a doctor's office? Of course not. So I suggest you learn a little more about the situation -- from both sides -- before you go shooting your mouth off again.
I dunno, I thought it was pretty good.

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