Were Teachers Adequately Informed? QPAT and the Democratic Process

By Robert Green

Teachers in Quebec’s English school boards contribute a significant amount of their hard-earned wages each year to fund the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT). In doing so, they expect QPAT to work actively to defend and advance their interests. They also expect to be part of any major decisions QPAT takes on their behalf. This is particularly true with regard to the process of negotiating and approving the collective agreements that affect all of our lives as teachers in such a direct way.

However, with the details of the most recently negotiated contract coming to light many teachers are beginning to feel that they were not adequately informed about the details of this agreement at the time that they voted. A previous two-part article entitled “Surprise! The Collective Agreement We Voted On Is Not the One We Got!” outlined in detail some of these ‘surprise’ changes.

This article will take a closer look at the democratic process by which this contract was approved and the specific information teachers were given in order to make this decision.

The Process

The first unusual aspect of the process to approve this contract was that it occurred in two parts. First, in the spring of 2010, teachers were asked to approve the agreement in principle concerning “sectorial” issues (those issues not related to salary). This portion of the agreement appeared to contain many positives, most notably reductions in class size. Then, in the fall of 2010, teachers were asked to approve the salary provisions of the agreement. This was without question the more controversial aspect of the agreement.

In the past, members have always debated the entire agreement with a single vote. Little explanation was provided as to why the approval was divided this way.

The second unusual aspect of the process to approve this contract is that when it came to the second, more controversial, vote on the salary agreement, QPAT neglected to send its usual mail-out to the members explaining the agreement. Instead it posted the document on its website. When asked at the MTA’s special general meeting why the members were not given copies of this crucially important document, the best MTA President Ruth Rosenfield could come up with was that QPAT was being “environmentally friendly”. Though copies of the info document did not make it into the schools, colour copies were on hand at the special general meeting for the few teachers who attended.

The information or lack thereof

Table 1 contrasts the information QPAT provided with the information it left out regarding 4 issues that have significant implications for teachers.

Table 1
Issue Actual text from QPAT’s ‘Negotiations’ document Important information QPAT’s document did not provide
New system for calculating sick days No information whatsoever was provided on this issue
  • Teachers now have their contractually obliged time in school tracked by the minute as a system of sick ‘days’ is replaced with a system of sick ‘minutes’
New system for salary deductions “Clarify and make uniform the method for deciding salary cuts in a case of absence of part of a day”
  • “Any absence of less than one hour must be treated as a 60-minute absence”
  • Non-unionized workers are protected from such punitive measures by Quebec’s labour standards
New system for payment of year end bonuses “Additional payment to teachers for added value or to target specific problems (e.g.: ECA, particular project, dropouts, etc.). This is to be negotiated in a separate letter of agreement, subject to approval by the treasury board, as an amendment to this agreement.”
  • Teachers are put in competition with one another for a share of this money.
  • By leaving the funding to a separate negotiation it was impossible for members to assess its value. Now we learn the average teacher stands to gain between $42 and $350 per year.
  • In the French school boards ECA’s are considered part of a teacher’s workload so that taking on ECA supervision results in reductions in other elements of a teacher’s workload such as teaching time or supervision.
New system for department heads “Integration into the agreement of provisions concerning department heads.”
  • The possibility for reduced workload for department heads exists only for those at the elementary level.
  • Department heads are not just coordinators but are given certain powers vis-à-vis their colleagues

In each of the four examples above, when information is given, the provision is presented in terms that are either positive or innocuous. In each case, the negative dimensions of the provision are not provided.

Even if the members had been provided a fair and balanced picture of these provisions the result of the final vote may not have changed. Nonetheless, the members of the unions that belong to QPAT have a right to make an informed decision on such important matters. The fact that the members were not given the information needed to do so raises serious questions about QPAT’s leadership and their commitment to the democratic process.

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3 Responses to “Were Teachers Adequately Informed? QPAT and the Democratic Process”

  1. Given the enormous amount of work teachers take on, particularly at the beginning of their careers, I can understand that not everyone wants to be a union activist. But the problem is the less we participate in union democracy the less accountable our union leaders are and the worse our working conditions get, making it even harder to find the time and energy to participate in union democracy: a classic vicious circle. This is why it is so crucially important for teachers to, at the very least, make efforts to inform themselves at election time and once a year attend the annual general meeting.

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