Premier Dalton McGuinty shook the legislative hammer at the teachers on Thursday.
Speaking from St. John’s Catholic School in Kitchener, McGuinty reminded reporters he has the power to recall the Legislature for an emergency session before Labour Day in order to introduce legislation that will force teachers back to the classroom.
Education Minister Laurel Broten angered unions, school boards and teachers on Monday by saying the Liberal government will use legislation to force labour peace if they don’t sign contracts by the end of the month. There are no details on what that legislation will be.
But before the Liberals do that, McGuinty stressed he is “hopeful” the school boards can do what ministry of education officials couldn’t — negotiate agreements with the province’s teaching unions. So far, only the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) and a small support staff union have worked out agreements.
“We are running out of runway. School is about to begin. I am calling on all of our school boards and teacher groups to do everything they possibly can at their level now to see if they might secure agreements based on the road map we set out, based on our agreement with OECTA,” McGuinty said.
On Sept. 1, if deals aren’t in place, all the existing contracts roll over and the teachers will all get pay hikes, said McGuinty, who signaled that is money the province, which is struggling to combat a $15-billion deficit, just does not have.
However, the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPBSA) is balking at the challenge the premier has given them. It is August, many are on vacation and now the province wants the boards to reach 400 collective agreements.
And the Progressive Conservatives have warned replicating the OECTA deal using legislation could push 45,000 teachers further up the salary grid at a cost of $438 million.
The teaching contracts expire at the end of August. The other unions representing public high school and elementary teachers, French teachers and support staff say the Catholic deal is unworkable for their members. The OECTA deal calls for three unpaid days off, a general wage freeze and fewer sick days that can’t be carried over or cashed out at retirement.
If the unions say the OECTA deal is “unacceptable” then this presents “clear obstacles to achieving labour deals using the ‘road map’,” the OPSBA said in a release.
“Given the sequence of events in the government discussion of the last five months, it is unrealistic to expect boards to find solutions within the OECTA ‘road map’ that will alter the position of teacher and support staff unions in the next few weeks,” said Lori Lukinuk, vice president of the association.
McGuinty noted, however, that there has not been a single education strike in nine years and while the parties have had some difficult negotiations in the past, they’ve always found common ground.
“I’m a hopeful guy. That is why I got into politics,” he said.
— Torstar News Service