Viewpoint: Lesson Learned?

Jan 29 • ViewpointNo Comments on Viewpoint: Lesson Learned?

The Ontario Labour Relations Board did teachers a favour last Friday morning when it ruled a planned one day walk-out illegal.

The decision created chaos for school boards across the province which had planned to close schools for the day based on the walk-out. There were bus cancellations, crossing guards in some areas weren’t in place and parents had to scramble to determine if they should or could send their children.

The result was open schools, minimal attendance and a day mostly wasted.

In the end, however, union president Sam Hammond and his executive ought to be grateful for the ruling since it likely saved the diminishing reputation of teachers from being shredded further. A by-product of this is that the equally legalistically challenged secondary school teachers union didn’t have to follow through on its planned strike of solidarity.

A strike while a contract is in place (even one which has been imposed) is clearly illegal. Our education professionals were about to teach students that if you don’t like a law, if that law economically disadvantages you, it’s fine to break it.

Really?

I’m not about to dispute that ETFO may have some legal foundation to question the province’s handling regarding its contract. If unions believe their members rights’ have been violated, the proper forum is to address it through the courts, not the kids.

If this is really about drawing public attention to an injustice, why not bring thousands of Ontario teachers together at Queen’s Park for a massive rally – on a Saturday.

As far as I know, the cause of righteousness doesn’t punch a time clock Friday afternoon.

That “oh yeah” moment exposes this battle for what it is: Big labour versus big government. One side represents a special interest group, the other is supposed to represent the rest of us who pay for that group’s service.

It could appear ETFO leadership is taking its battle with outgoing Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to a personal level, but it’s deeper than that. With the Liberal leadership up for grabs later this month, the union wants to send a message to the next premier.

The message likely to be returned is that whoever leads this province, the cupboard is equally bare although some leadership hopefuls are already pandering to teachers in hopes of securing their support and distance themselves from McGuinty.

Had ETFO been paying attention, the labour dispute need not have gotten this far.

The Liberals began telling public sector unions in 2010 they needed to freeze wages to cut into the provincial deficit and said again in last year’s budget they would use legislation as a last resort to do so.

Many other public sector unions even in the education field (college teachers, Catholic and francophone teachers, support staff represented by CUPE) as well as doctors, OPSEU and some supervisors in government understood the situation and settled.

Hammond and company believe they’re immune to the economic reality everyone else faces. They aren’t.

Regardless of value, remuneration is based on ability to pay.

Although ETFO leadership doesn’t seem to get it, local teachers do.

Many were planning to go into work last Friday regardless of the union wishes.

Others teachers are telling parents they’re fed up with union threats of $500 fines if they continue extra-curricular activities, an action which seems to parallel the same bullying tactics ETFO decries in government.

Instead of influencing provincial politics, perhaps ETFO members need to look at their leadership in terms of whether it accurately defines their attitude.

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