Archive for December, 2012

December 21, 2012

The teachers’ dispute and the war on wages

By Thomas Walkom | Published December 19, 2012 by The Toronto Star

The one-day teachers’ strikes are coming to an end. What’s next?

For teachers, the new year will almost certainly include government-imposed contracts and the suspension of their right to strike for 24 months.

For other public sector workers, this is their likely future as well. The Liberal government didn’t have time to eliminate their bargaining rights before Premier Dalton McGuinty abruptly prorogued the Legislature this fall.

But barring an ideological conversion of Biblical proportions, whoever replaces McGuinty is likely to follow his lead.

For unionized workers who are not employed by government, the attack on public sector unions is a moment of truth.

When Bob Rae’s New Democratic Party government overrode collective agreements in 1993, many private sector unions — including the Steelworkers and my union, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers — broke with their public sector counterparts to support the NDP regime.

The essence of their argument would be familiar today: private sector workers had already suffered from what was, at the time, the biggest recession since the 1930s; therefore, public sector workers had to sacrifice as well.

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December 20, 2012

The Everyday Heroism of Our Nation’s Teachers

It’s not a crisis of security or “bad” teaching that’s harming our schools. The real crisis in public education is about a lost belief in the public good.

By Jessie B. Ramey | Published December 19, 2012 by Alternet

I didn’t want to send my kids to school this morning. After the shootings on Friday at Sandy Hook elementary, I suspect like many parents across the country I just wanted to keep my kids by my side and not let them out of my sight. With the horrifying news all over the media this weekend, I talked to our boys a little about what happened, mostly to assure them that they would be OK in their own school.

“Mr. Sikorski keeps your school very safe,” I told them. That’s their principal, and as I said it, I had to fight back tears thinking about the Sandy Hook principal who literally gave her life for her students. “Your teachers care about you and will keep you safe,” I reassured them. They seemed satisfied with my explanation and went out the door to the school bus this morning with confidence like any other day, but I could not get the image of teachers fighting for their students out of my head. These are the teachers we send our children off to every day, asking them to shape and nurture young minds. We never ask teachers to pledge their lives for our kids, but now we know what those trusted adults would do in the most terrifying of situations: an entire building of teachers and staff demonstrated just how clever, cunning, bold, fearless, and courageous they would be in defense of their students.

Reporter Dave Lindorff noted in a column yesterday that the Newtown, CT school board had a $1 million budget cutting plan last year and is currently debating eliminating the elementary school’s music and library programs. Yet those music and library teachers stayed with their students and protected them during the attack. And all of the Sandy Hook teachers are members of the American Federation of Teachers.

There are far too many people in the current corporate-style reform movement pointing fingers at teachers and their unions, blaming them for all of our public education woes. (The head of Tea Party Nation actually just blamed “radical” teachers and unions for the Sandy Hook massacre itself.) After a lecture I gave on our grassroots movement yesterday, someone in the audience came up to ask me, “But don’t we need to get rid of all the bad teachers?” Another person asked, “In light of Friday’s shooting, why aren’t you talking about the problem with school security?” Now we are hearing that the Sandy Hook shooter broke his way into the school and that the principal and staff had a well-rehearsed security plan.

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December 12, 2012

Ontario teachers and students step up the fight against austerity and Bill 115

By Jesse McLaren | Published December 7, 2012 by

On Monday, Ontario teachers will start rolling walkouts across the province against the draconian Bill 115, the “Putting Students First Act.” But the best way to put students first is to support teachers against the Liberal government’s anti-democratic austerity agenda.


 The Ontario Liberals claimed Bill 115, passed in September, was necessary in order to balance a budget during the economic crisis. But this is after McGuinty wasted billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts. While the 1 per cent has been bailed out, the 99 per cent are facing cuts — from imposing a pay freeze on teachers, denying universal childcare to parents and continually raising tuition for students.

Students have been at the heart of the fight against the Liberal’s austerity agenda, including occupying the office of Glen Murray, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. As Cindy Brownlee, Director of Education and Equity for the Student Association of George Brown College said last April, “As a single mother nearing the end of my studies in early childhood education. I’ve joined today’s occupation to demand that the Ontario government reverse their decision to increase tuition fees next fall.”

In addition, students are not abstract or frozen-in-time. As one writer put it, “Today’s high-school student without sports is tomorrow’s college student racking up debt and next week’s angry, unemployed or precarious worker.”

Teachers are putting students first by resisting the austerity agenda that is undermining their futures.

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December 11, 2012

Kill Bill 115: Where is the Ontario labour movement going?

by Doug Nesbitt | Published December 7, 2012 by

In the coming week, Ontario’s teachers, education workers and students will be turning up the heat on the Liberal minority government and Bill 115, which imposes a concessionary bargaining agenda on teachers unions and the school boards, and allows the cabinet to change tentative agreements and stop strikes without even legislative oversight.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has given notice that it will begin a series of one-day district-wide strikes in every public school board district before Christmas, beginning Monday December 10 in the Avon-Maitland and North East Districts. This will affect small Ontario towns and regions surrounding Stratford, Timmins, Kirkland Lake, and Kapuskasing.

On the same day, the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers Federation (OSSTF) will be implementing what is by far its most coordinated work-to-rule campaign. All volunteer activities and extracurriculars will end, and teachers will show up 15 minutes before classes start and leave 15 minutes after classes end. This latter work-to-rule action is based on the 1990 Education Act, Regulation 298, Section 3.7 and Section 20(d).

And, for the first time since late September, a series of high school walkouts are being planned for Monday in York Region, London, and elsewhere. This will be the second wave of walkouts since late September when over thirty high schools and even elementary schools witnessed student actions against Bill 115.

The Journey to December 10
The road to ETFO’s strike action and OSSTF’s province-wide work-to-rule has been a long, complicated one. Passed in September, Bill 115 has predictably prolonged, complicated and escalated the labour conflict in Ontario, whereas free collective bargaining may have mitigated the effects and probability of labour conflict altogether. However, the unpopular Liberal minority government is committed to saving $2 billion in labour costs to reduce a $15 billion deficit (after reducing corporate taxes from 14 to 11.5 since 2009). The Liberals are now embroiled in a leadership contest after Dalton McGuinty decided to abandon what looks like a sinking ship and prorogue the legislature at the same time.

The weakness of the government is only matched by the disunity and confusion of the teachers unions. Back in July, OECTA’s leadership signed a concession-laden Memorandum of Understanding with the Ontario government without consultation or ratification from the membership. OSSTF, ETFO and CUPE rightfully denounced the OECTA leadership and the MOU. The government then used the MOU as a framework for the concessions imposed on all other teachers and education workers through Bill 115, even though the school boards, not the government, bargains with the unions. Even the associations representing all of Ontario’s school boards protested Bill 115’s interference in collective bargaining.

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December 4, 2012

Open Letter: MTA Members Should Vote ‘No’ on the MEPAF Referendum

By Robert Lavoie

At the last reps’ meeting, the executive of the MTA made it quite clear that their plan is to take the MEPAF money and use it to bolster the contingency fund that has arguably been poorly managed and is shrinking (from 352,000$ in 2008 to just over 120,000$). I am not entirely opposed to the transfer of this money to the MTA. However, I have some reservations about the process as well as the functionality.

The issue that I have with the process is that I have a hard time associating myself with what comes across as a less than honest act. The language that was used at the reps’ meeting and in the memo sent by Ruth portrays the MTA as employing ‘truthiness’. The line taken is that, as long as we SAY that we are going to administer the funds as they were before, we are legally in the right but that our intention is basically to use up this money in the contingency fund. But the MTA is not proposing administering the funds on behalf of only those MTA members that contributed to MEPAF. It is proposing mixing the MEPAF money into its existing contingency fund.

I think that it is important at this point to bring up the probable scenario of the day when all of the money received from MEPAF has been spent and our contingency fund is empty, and somebody applies for a MEPAF loan but there is no money to lend. What do we tell this unfortunate person whose money we have spent? Will (s)he sue us? Conversely, when the money is used up and the contingency fund is empty, how will non-MEPAF members of the MTA feel about potentially having to contribute more money to the MTA to bolster the contingency fund…so that we can give loans to
MEPAF people?

The contingency fund is an account that can be used at the discretion of the president, the treasurer and another member of the executive. I feel strongly that a close-knit trio of people whose decisions are shrouded in a cloak of secrecy is a bad formula for overseeing large amounts of money: other people’s money. It is important to remember that the executive of the MTA has shown itself to be hostile towards the sharing of financial documents with the membership. The scenarios for abuse are limitless.

Even if Ruth is worthy of the blind trust that many MTA reps have declared towards her, some day another person will be president of the union and the existence of such a structure invites abuse, leaving the question not ‘if’ but ‘when’ will it happen.

It is for these reasons that I am proposing that we vote no in the upcoming referendum.


December 2, 2012

Democratic to the CORE

The Chicago Teachers Union’s secret to success? The rank and file are in control.

BY Micah Uetricht and Jasson Perez | Published November 30, 2012 by In These Times

During September’s Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike, local and national media rushed to frame the fight as a clash of oversized personalities: the stubborn, foul-mouthed Mayor Rahm Emanuel against the brash chemistry-teacher-turned-union president Karen Lewis. Even progressive media hyped Lewis as the driver of the union’s victory, praising her personal toughness as more than a match for Emanuel. It was classic “Great Man” historicism, tracing the strike’s origins to leaders’ personal traits.

Few accounts mentioned the constituencies behind these leaders. For Emanuel, this includes anti-union charter-school advocates, who donated $12 million toward his election. In Lewis’ case, it was the dictates of her 30,000 members. Indeed, the CTU is one of the most vibrantly democratic union locals in the United States.

Since a 2010 upheaval within the CTU, rank-and-file teachers have made up the union’s leadership, and members make many of its day-to-day decisions. Public actions are typically planned and executed by members themselves, not paid staff. And the CTU took the incredible step of extending its September strike an extra two days to ensure members had a chance to examine and debate the proposed contract.

As Lewis puts it, “We put the power into the hands of the rank and file, where it belongs.”

In recent decades, as the American labor movement has declined in membership and power, several unions have undergone a sea change, with new leaders proposing bold visions for how to revitalize labor. But rarely have those visions been as closely tied to a commitment to member-led democracy as in the CTU.

Shifts in leadership

Unlike many unions, in which officials cling to power for decades, the CTU has a long history of leadership turnover. Even when leaders did not run the union democratically, the CTU’s structure allowed for reform caucuses to develop. The United Progressive Caucus (UPC), which was rooted in racial justice caucuses in the 1970s but failed to push back against corporate education reform, held power for three decades. Proactive Chicago Teachers (PACT), a reform caucus pledging to recapture a past union militancy, briefly unseated the UPC in 2001—the same year current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan became CEO of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), pushing an agenda of closing public schools and opening charters.

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December 1, 2012

Poor air quality in Quebec schools threatens children’s health, report finds

By Janet Bagnall | Published November 29, 2012 by the Montreal Gazette

The air quality in a number of Quebec elementary schools is unsatisfactory and risks harming pupils’ health and their ability to concentrate, the province’s acting auditor, Michel Samson, said in his annual report Thursday.

Samson criticized the school boards for failing to carry out inspections, or even understand what it is they are supposed to do, as well as the Education Department for not requiring school boards to file regular reports on the quality of air in schools even in the case of major problems.

Children subjected to poor air quality suffer from headaches, fatigue and coughs and have difficulty concentrating. The symptoms of children with asthma or other respiratory ailments become aggravated. Teachers forced to breathe substandard air are less productive, the auditor said.

The auditor’s office investigated three school boards, one in Montreal, the Commission scolaire de Montréal, and two elsewhere in the province, inspecting two schools within each board. None of the three boards carried out visual inspections of the school buildings, thereby missing such problems as poor roof drainage, fissures in the brick veneer and foundation, high levels of humidity in crawl spaces and the presence of mould, the auditor found. The CSDM is responsible for the well-being of 51,000 pupils in its 87 elementary schools.