(the last 30 seconds of the interview unfortunately get cut off)
Robert Green speaks with CBC’s Sue Smith about recent developments in negotiations with Quebec’s teachers
October 25, 2015
Those present at the meeting for the Montreal Teachers Association’s strike vote heard a number of remarkable things from our union leadership. QPAT’s chief negotiator, Olivier Dolbec, for example described the various times teachers had been legislated back to work as victories in which teachers came out ahead. Dolbec’s central piece of evidence for this claim was that the back-to-work legislation of 2005 won us our current limits on class size.
This might be an interesting point if it were true. In fact the current limits on class size were the central element in the 2010 negotiations that convinced teachers to vote in favour of a negotiated settlement. The 2005 strike resulted in teachers being legislated back to work with the exact provisions government had put on the table prior to the strike. In other words, this strike did absolutely nothing to move government from what it was intending to do all along. One would think that QPAT’s chief negotiator would have his facts straight on such matters.
As if this was not enough to cast serious doubt on the judgement and integrity of our chief negotiator, Mr Dolbec then stunned the room with this remarkable statement:
“This is – and I challenge anyone in the room to say the opposite – this is the best collective agreement for teachers AROUND THE WORLD”
WHS teacher Robert Lavoie has taken up Mr Dolbec’s challenge. In this the first of a multi-part series Mr Lavoie presents a thorough comparison of the collective agreement of Quebec’s teachers with that of New Brunswick’s.
By Robert Green | Published Oct 14, 2015 by Ricochet.media
Government appears indifferent to the harm their policies cause to students
As public outrage over the Quebec Liberal government’s attacks on public education has grown, so too has the movement to surround schools in human chains on the first day of each month. Oct. 1 saw this movement not only grow to over 300 schools throughout Quebec, but also include a significant number of schools in the province’s English school boards which were participating for the first time.
The aim of this action was to send a clear message to Premier Philippe Couillard and his cadre: parents, teachers and support staff are united against the government’s attempt to balance its books on the backs of students. Of particular concern are proposals to remove limits on class size and cut a whole range of supports for students with special needs.
While the potent symbolism of community after community uniting to form a human chain in defence of their schools was not enough to persuade the government to change course, it did at least force the minister of education to publicly defend his actions.
His comments were disturbing to say the least. When asked why he would not restore funding for support for students with special needs, Education Minister François Blais stated that given Quebec’s current budget situation, such an investment would be “maladroit.” The minister was essentially saying that to leave in place existing supports for students with special needs would be “awkward” or “clumsy.”
A government of sociopaths?
By Robert Green | Published February 26, 2014 by Ricochet.media
Quebec Minister of Education Yves Bolduc resigned today, after a short tenure marked by one frighteningly obtuse statement after another.
First he claimed that “no child will die” from funding cuts to school libraries. Next he proposed to remove limits on class size in contract negotiations with the province’s teachers, claiming there is “no evidence” that such limits help improve student achievement. Then, in response to the release of an extensive study commissioned by his own ministry demonstrating the failure of the pedagogical reform first implemented back in 2000, he flat out denied the study’s results, claiming that it was “too early” to judge.
The most recent outrage came from Bolduc’s statement that it was okay for schools to strip-search students, provided it was done “respectfully.”
To characterize Bolduc as an incompetent clown in a comedy of errors is a mistake. He is no fool and knows exactly what he is doing.
If it seems he doesn’t care about the consequences of his policy proposals for public education, it’s because he doesn’t.
An education minister with no vision
In Margaret Thatcher’s England, Bolduc would have been referred to as a “dry.” The “wets” were those in Thatcher’s government ridiculed by the more hard-line conservatives for wetting their pants at the thought of implementing the various Thatcherite policies that would be so harmful to Britain’s working class. The “dries” were those unfazed at the thought of harming society’s most vulnerable.
The gloves come off as the CJAD teachers panel discusses the PLQ’s ongoing assault on public education
Teachers Catharine Hogan and Robert Green pull no punches in discussing the PLQ’s ongoing assault on public education with James Mennie (sitting in for Tommy Shnurmacher). Originally aired February 17, 2015.
By Robert Green | Published Sept 1 2014 by Ricochet
The beginning of the school year should be a time of great optimism and excitement for teachers. We’re energized by seeing our colleagues again and excited to meet the students we’ll be teaching for the year. Our thoughts should be focused on making our classrooms more welcoming, our lessons more engaging and our contributions to our school community more meaningful.
Unfortunately, for too many teachers across Canada the positive feelings that normally accompany the beginning of the school year will be overshadowed by more negative sentiments: uncertainty, frustration, anger and above all the feeling of being profoundly disrespected.
Nowhere is this more true than in BC. The province’s teachers have been on the picket line since the spring as part of the latest chapter in an exasperating decades-long struggle with the province’s Liberal government. The bad faith demonstrated by the government over the course of this struggle boggles the mind. While the media wants to malign BC teachers as greedy, the heart of this dispute has always been about protecting quality of education for students by reducing class size. After teachers gave up salary concessions in the nineties in order to win class-size reductions (greedy bastards!) the BC Liberals went on to unilaterally remove these provisions from their contract in 2002.
By Robert Green | Published August 9, 2014 by Ricochet
In a move that seems perfectly symbolic of the sort of politics his government represents, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard announced this week that the five members of the government commission charged with reviewing government programs and recommending where to make cuts will be paid the tidy sum of $1.03 million for about eight months of work. Commission President and ex-Liberal cabinet minister Lucienne Robillard will take home $265,000 for explaining to average Quebecers where they must make sacrifices.
The message being sent here is unmistakable: Tough choices, sacrifice and austerity are for the common people, not Quebec’s elites.
Though his government has been in power only a short time, this is not the first time it has sent such a message. The government’s first budget contained cuts to school boards that are likely to seriously affect the services provided by already underfunded public schools, while leaving the subsidies wealthy families receive to send their children to private schools untouched. Apparently it is for the children of Little Burgundy to shoulder the burden of repairing Quebec’s public finances, not the privileged children who live up the hill in Westmount.
In fact this message is nothing new. From the PQ’s “deficit zero” politics of the late nineties to the Charest government’s attempts to “re-engineer the state” in the 2000s, Quebec’s political leaders have for years been saying that average Quebecers need to make do with less, that government spending is “out of control” and that we as a society are “living beyond our means.”
In 2010, Finance Minister Raymond Bachand called for a “cultural revolution” of austerity. This revolution led directly to the longest student strike in Canadian history and the defeat of Bachand’s government. Now back from exile, and sporting a new leader, the Liberals are set for round 2.
However, a cursory examination of Quebec’s recent spending trends shows a very different picture. With the exception of a spike in stimulus spending following the 2008 economic downturn, Quebec’s expenditures as a percentage of GDP have been trending downward since the early nineties. Even at the height of stimulus spending in 2009-2010 Quebec was spending significantly less as a percentage of GDP than it was in the early nineties. This is hardly a picture of out-of-control spending.
By Robert Green
This article appears in the Spring 2013 edition of ‘Our Schools / Our Selves’ published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
One of the first major protests I can remember attending was outside of the PQ government’s socioeconomic summit in 1996. I was an undergraduate at Concordia and while I definitely understood that this summit represented a threat to social spending, I had no idea of the extent to which this event would be a turning point in the province’s politics. The summit’s so-called consensus on eliminating Quebec’s deficit in 4 years would usher in the deepest cuts to social spending in the province’s history. I’ll never forget the ominous feeling in the crisp fall air outside the summit as evening set and a large effigy of Lucien Bouchard was lit ablaze by protestors, right in the middle of Boulevard René Lévesque.
Since then I’ve watched over and over again as neoliberal governments, in Quebec and elsewhere, have thwarted the efforts of public sector workers to defend their working conditions and protect the quality of public services.
I began my teaching career at what was unquestionably a low point for union morale amongst Quebec’s teachers. Jean Charest had just legislated the province’s teachers back-to-work with a draconian law that imposed massive sanctions on both teachers and their unions if they continued to strike. The only gains made by teachers in this imposed contract carried a dollar value of roughly the same amount that government had saved in unpaid salaries during the strike. The whole experience understandably left a bitter taste in the mouths of many of my colleagues. In the most recent round of negotiations teachers showed little interest in work action and ultimately voted to accept the contract proposed by government.
Meanwhile in Ontario the McGuinty government recently threatened back-to-work legislation before teachers had even announced any intention to go on strike! The heavy handedness just seems to be getting heavier.
As a public sector employee and as someone who strongly believes in the power and potential of unions to improve the lives of working people, these have not been the easiest of times. But as heavy handed as various neoliberal governments have been in dealing with teachers and other public sector employees, their attacks in no way represent some kind of permanent defeat. The rise of neoliberalism is however cause for a serious rethink about the way that unions operate. It is a challenge that calls on the labour movement to do what it has always done when historical circumstances have warranted; it calls on the labour movement to adapt!
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.
By Robert Green
Thus far this series has looked at where Quebec’s political parties stand on education funding, curriculum reform, school autonomy ,the abolition of school boards , reducing the dropout rate and private school subsidies. This article will examine what the parties have in store for the province’s teachers.
Right now across North America there is a well financed war being waged against teachers and their unions. The proponents of this war argue that the source of poor student achievement is too many lazy or incompetent teachers with too much job security. The solution they propose is usually a combination of taking away the job security and collective bargaining rights of teachers along with some form of merit pay scheme. In the US this is being achieved through the closing of public schools and the opening of semi-private charter schools (staffed by non-unionized teachers) in their place. This is the vision of school reform promoted by those referred to as “corporate education reformers” through slickly produced propaganda films such as “Waiting for Superman” and the soon to be released “Won’t Back Down”.
The first problem with this narrative is that it is extremely insulting to the vast majority of teachers who are neither lazy nor incompetent and who in fact donate untold hours of unpaid work on their evenings and weekends to help their students succeed.
The more serious problem with this narrative from a policy perspective, is that it is directly contradicted by the available evidence. Other than class size, the amount of experience possessed by teachers is one of the few factors that have been shown by a wide body of evidence to be correlated positively with increased student success. Not surprisingly then, since unions protect the job security and working conditions of teachers, improved student success is also correlated with rates of unionization. The fact that a teacher’s working conditions happen also to be the student’s learning conditions goes a long way in explaining this. While it is true that correlation is not necessarily an indication of causation, those advocating to improve schools by attacking teachers unions need to explain why it is that students in regions without teachers unions do consistently worse in terms of achievement than students in regions where teachers are unionized.
To download a podcast of Tommy Schnurmacher’s January 19 interview with Robert Green on his Gazette op-ed, “English schools more like guinea pigs than labs for ‘innovations’”, click below:
CJAD Interview on January 17 Op-Ed (To download as mp3 right-click and select ‘save link as’)
By Robert Green
In a recent interview with The Gazette (“An ‘ideas lab’ for education,” Opinion, Jan. 9), the retired chief negotiator for the Quebec English School Boards Association, Ben Huot, talks about innovations within the English education system.
Mr. Huot touts, as a positive innovation, the fact that teachers in Quebec’s English school boards will now receive extra remuneration if they supervise extracurricular activities. He neglects to mention that if the money committed for this program this year were divided equally among all the teachers of Quebec’s English school boards, each teacher would receive about $75 per year in additional pay. In future years, this will increase to the mighty sum of about $300 annually. In theory, a teacher could earn up to eight per cent of his or her pay in such bonuses, but this would necessitate large numbers of his or her colleagues receiving nothing. The real experiment here is seeing what the introduction of such competitive policies will do to the sense of collegiality and the level of collaboration among teachers in Quebec’s English system.
Mr. Huot also fails to mention that teachers in Quebec’s French school boards are already remunerated for extracurricular activities; such work is factored into the calculation of their overall workload. In other words, when teachers in the French system take on extracurricular activities, their teaching load is reduced and they have more time for course planning and marking.
One would be hard-pressed to find a single teacher in Quebec’s English system who would not, in an instant, exchange the pittance being promised for extracurricular work for the much-needed additional prep time enjoyed by teachers in Quebec’s French system. To state, as Mr. Huot does, that teachers’ unions in the French system would want to “ride the coattails” of the English on this issue is absurd. If anything, the leadership of the provincial English teachers’ union should be explaining why they agreed to an “innovation” that is clearly worse than what exists in the French system, and that will inevitably be used by the government as a rationale to take away the advantages enjoyed by its teachers.
By Robert Green
Part one of this article discussed the core guaranteed salary increases in the current collective agreement. Now comes the fun part: explaining the rather convoluted formula for potential additional increases and what this all means in the big picture.
In addition to the guaranteed 6 percent over five years the agreement also contains several additional increases triggered by growth in Quebec’s nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
What the heck is ‘nominal’ GDP?
The GDP is the basic measure of economic growth. There are two ways economists look at the GDP. ‘Real’ GDP presents a picture of economic growth adjusted for the effects of inflation. As inflation changes from year to year this allows economists to compare one year’s economic growth with another. This is the most commonly referred to measure of economic growth. ‘Nominal’ GDP on the other hand is a measure of economic growth that includes the effects of inflation (on all goods not simply those used to determine the Consumer Price Index). Therefore nominal GDP can be understood as a composite of real GDP plus inflation.
By Robert Green
Last fall members of the majority of Quebec’s public sector unions voted to approve an agreement on salary that had been negotiated by the leaders of the Common Front.
Prior to the vote, the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) which represents teachers in Quebec’s English school boards had done very little to ensure that its members clearly understood the proposed deal. The usual mail-out was forgone in favour of a link on QPAT’s website and very little time was made available for members to study the details of the deal before being asked to vote on it. Although a more detailed explanation was provided at the Montreal Teachers Association (MTA) general meeting, very few attended this meeting. As a result Quebec’s teachers, for the most part, are left with a salary agreement whose true implications few understand.
In two parts, this article will attempt to remedy this situation by demystifying and contextualizing this agreement that we will all have to live with until 2015. Part one will discuss the context of the agreement and its core guaranteed elements. Part two will explore the possibility of additional salary increases being triggered and look at the effects of inflation.