OSSTF/FEESO offers a path forward in negotiations

After almost 30 years in education and 2 decades working in labour relations, I have rarely seen a statement by a representative of the government as discouraging and ultimately destructive to the bargaining process. Specifically, I’m referring to Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s remarks at a press conference and on social media on December 6, in which he said, “It’s time to name and shame OSSTF’s unacceptable demands. They want a $1.5B compensation increase, or else there’ll be further strikes.”

Once again, Minister Lecce gets his facts flagrantly wrong. OSSTF/FEESO’s compensation proposal of a Cost of Living Adjustment pegged to inflation for our members has a value of $200 million, a different order of magnitude from the Minister’s claim. Based on other statements in which he admits that the amount he refers to is based on every worker in the education sector, it is clear that the Minister is deliberately inflating the figure. His motive is obviously not to reveal the truth but to obscure it.

Additionally, and although it is evident from other statements that he knows better, Minister Lecce ignores the fact that OSSTF/FEESO represents many support staff, the bulk of whom average an income of $38,000 a year. After they’ve fallen behind inflation for seven years, Minister Lecce wants to shame these hard-working educators for asking to earn, in real terms, the same this year as last year. Why should any worker, for that matter, be shamed for asking to keep up with the cost of inflation?

This from a government that gave MPPs a 20% increase in their housing allowance. This from a government that gave landlords the right to increase rents by 2.2% in 2020 to keep up with inflation. But they maintain that those paying the rent should not be able to meet rising costs and, in his words, should be shamed for asking to do so.

Finally, this kind of inflammatory language by the Minister only hardens positions and makes reaching agreement that much harder. It is clear that he does not understand the collective bargaining process or that contract disputes eventually end but the ill will created by his approach is long lasting.

Ontario’s educators, who have built a world renowned education system and go to work every day to give students their best chance at success, don’t deserve this. Ontario’s public, which wants an agreement that secures the quality of education for our students and the future economy into which they’ll graduate, doesn’t deserve this either. It’s time for Minister Lecce to abandon the incendiary rhetoric and simply negotiate, in good faith, an agreement that is good for the students in our charge.

Yesterday, OSSTF/FEESO officially proposed a way forward. We offered to accept the Minister’s proposal of private mediation and postpone our December 11 job action if the Minister will simply remove the legislative, regulatory, and policy impediments to bargaining that his government unilaterally enacted. The Minister cannot claim that he is fighting for students and laser-focused on keeping students in class while at the same time insisting that cuts to their education and legislative interference in free collective bargaining remain in place. We urge him to accept our offer.

Our latest proposal is now posted on our website – www.BargainingForEducation.ca.

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