Money does not grow on trees. Yet, even as the Globe and Mail headline shouts: “Ontario set to get tough with teachers,” those of us who know better yawn. We have seen this movie far too many times before — the belief that any thought of restraint is an insult to teachers.
Unfortunately, they have learned that lesson by always getting their way. Actually, I know of no time in the forty years I have been involved in, or connected to, public school education when salaries have not increased — even if only marginally. It’s always been upward, never a salary and benefits freeze.
Ontario Government and Teachers’ Unions
One thing is for sure, Premier Dalton McGuinty, the Education Premier, and his Liberal Government cannot seem to say no to teachers’ unions. Actually, when I come to think of it, they can’t say no to any public sector union. Remember, while communicating wage restraint in public during the spring of 2011, they also signed a secret document giving the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) a wage increase.
And so, as Cary’s Mills’ states in her Globe column: “Meanwhile, the union for public secondary school teachers held a meeting Wednesday evening to discuss the government’s offer, which it denounced as “unacceptable” and “an unprecedented attack on members’ rights.”
The Province of Ontario is broke and yet the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) refer to their offer as an attack on members’ rights. Hello? The current mess the Ontario Liberal Government finds itself in has attacked all our rights, our taxpayers’ rights. So, let’s just skip the political hypocrisy — given that the teachers’ unions spent millions of dollars on advertising to get the McGuinty caucus re-elected in October, 2011. Meaning, they as good as own him now.
BC Government and Teachers’ Unions
In British Columbia (BC), the conflict seems to be a bit different. For a year now, the BC Liberal Government has declined to restore rights taken out of a previous collective agreement (even though they were ordered to do so by the BC Supreme Court). Plus, the BC Government wants to make teaching an essential service — meaning they want to take away the right to strike.
Wow! So, there seems to be some backbone there. Now, guess how the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) responded? As Wendy Stueck writes, also in the Globe and Mail, they will begin a teacher’s strike on Monday.
How can there be a paradigm shift?
What I am going to suggest is a paradigm shift — a shift in the way teachers’ unions look at demands — in terms of what is possible. Yet, that kind of shift, in BC at this point, is only going to happen if parents refuse to be held hostage. To avoid that, what they need to do is make alternate child care arrangements for their children, for however long a strike or work-to-rule lasts. They can get help from neighbours, relatives or they take vacation time from work. Whatever it takes. Because as long as it is about childcare, the unions are in control, not only of the provincial government, but of families as well.
The same needs to happen in Ontario because McGuinty knows how angry parents got with Mike Harris in 1997. But Harris was right. There is only so much taxpayers’ money to go around. Ability to pay must mean something. Otherwise, it will be our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will be paying for the raises the teachers receive now. Without a doubt, people who work in the private sector have every reason to be very angry.
Endnote: I am not going to be a hypocrite. Both my husband and I are retired teachers, although only he has a full pension. Regardless, we both benefitted from positive collective agreements over the years. Meaning, I’m hardly anti-union. But, we are now in a new world. As such, it is my belief that it is long past time that teachers’ unions took a step back from confrontation and became part of the solution. Why? Because, there was a time when people looked up to teachers — something they no longer do.