Pearson Teachers Union Files Grievance on Class Size. Why Has the MTA Not Followed Suit?

By Robert Green | Published February 10, 2013

In an interview on CJAD this week Pearson Teachers Union (PTU) President John Donnelly announced that his union had filed a grievance contesting the oversized classes in his board. In explaining his reason for filing this grievance Donnelly explained that “over and above that [compensation paid to teachers] the collective agreement says you still can’t have oversized classes unless you have one of four reasons and none of these reasons apply to the Lester B. Pearson Board”. Donnelly goes on to mention that he expects a final decision on the grievance by March.

Donnelly is referring here to clause 8-4.01-c which states:

The board may exceed the maximums indicated only for one of the following specific reasons: the lack of premises in the school, the limited number of groups in the school, a shortage of qualified available personnel or the geographic location of the school.

The PTU is right to challenge the existence of oversized classes in its schools as the conditions allowing oversized classes clearly do not apply to large urban schools. The PTU is also right to be filing this grievance now. Protecting class size maximums is a particularly pressing matter for two reasons. The first is that the new collective agreement commits to significant reductions to the size of most classes in Quebec. By the end of its implementation in 2013/14 the planned reductions would see most class size maximums reduced by 3 or 4. Classes in economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods would be reduced by as many as 9 students. The second reason this is a particularly urgent issue is that at a time when the English public system is losing students to the French system and the private sector, class-size reductions are one of the best ways to protect and improve the quality of education in Quebec’s English public schools. If we do not protect the quality of education in our schools, we will continue to lose students.

Given the importance of this issue for the working conditions of teachers, the learning conditions of students and the overall health of the English public system, members of the Montreal Teachers Association (MTA) should be wondering why their union has not followed suit and launched a similar grievance. Particularly since doing so would strengthen the case of our fellow teachers in the Pearson board. As a member of the QPAT executive committee, one wonders how MTA President Ruth Rosenfield would not have been informed of the details of this grievance, filed by another QPAT member-local way back in June. Being aware of the details, she would then presumably know that if the collective agreement prohibited oversized classes in the Pearson board, then for the very same reasons, it should do so for schools in the EMSB.

This situation is reminiscent of one that occurred years ago where the PTU fought an extensive grievance on the question of special needs students, winning over a million dollars in compensation for its members, while the MTA did nothing. One wonders what exactly the purpose of QPAT is, if not to coordinate these kinds of grievances when they clearly apply to more than one local.

Another aspect of Donnelly’s interview that should raise concerns for MTA members about their own union is the fact that the grievance is expected to be completely resolved by March; less than 10 months from the initial filing of the grievance. Meanwhile members of the MTA are still waiting for the final results of a series of grievances that were filed five years ago! How is it that the PTU is able to resolve a major grievance in less than a year and yet the EMSB seems able to delay and stonewall MTA grievances without end. This is exactly why MTA executive assistant John Winrow has repeatedly called for a ‘political solution’ to our grievances in his reports to the MTA’s Annual General Meeting.

It is also important to note that clause 8-4.01-c is not new. It has been part of the collective agreement for at least the last 12 years. This means that EMSB teachers may have been dealing with over-sized classes for at least the last 12 years which might have been deemed a contravention of the collective agreement had our union had the gumption to challenge them.

Reducing class size benefits teachers by improving their working conditions, it benefit students by improving their learning conditions and it benefits teachers unions because smaller classes mean more teachers have to be hired meaning more members for the union. The only one that stands to benefit from the status quo of oversized classes are school boards. Failing to implement class size reductions benefits their bottom line. School boards would much rather continue to pay teachers the pittance in oversized class compensation that teachers currently receive than to hire the teachers required to actually implement the class size reductions committed to by government. In light of all this and given that the MTA has thus far shown no interest in contesting the numerous oversized classes in its schools, MTA members should be asking some serious questions about their union’s leadership.

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