Teacher’s Rights

Posted: September 22, 2012 in Current Events, Pedagogy & Education, politics

Let me begin that as a retired teacher and being fully aware of the situation within the profession, I am completely sympathetic and understanding of the anger and disappointment teachers feel as a result of the bad deal they’ve received from the Ontario government.  The current government has not only interfered with the bargaining rights of a group of workers, but has gone totally against a promise that they made to the teaching profession when they were first elected.  It’s bad faith all around.  It’s probably illegal, but by the time the challenge goes through the system it will be too late.

Teachers are a profession where no good deed goes unpunished.  If workers in any other profession went out of their way to volunteer their own time they would be lauded.  With teachers, it is an expectation that gets taken for granted.  As a result, when teachers withdraw their participation in extra-curricular activities, many in the public and media cry foul.  Giving up your lunch hour to run a club, or staying for hours after school to coach a team do not merit gratitude beyond lip service, and when the chips are down and the services are withdrawn, many see teachers as abandoning an obligation.  Nonsense.  Yes, it is true that other professions require workers to stay later hours or take work home, but let me assure you that teachers are quite occupied in that line through lesson preparation and marking.  The clubs, teams and extra help are a bonus, and when the public forgets that it is only natural for teachers to feel offended.  In fact, were it not for the fact that teachers have an unusually strong passion for their occupation, The kind of disrespect that they often feel would quickly translate into a crushing of that passion to the detriment of education in general.  If you were an accountant who spent time at a local YMCA  coaching a team, only to find that the parents and the kids took your volunteer work for granted, it would be easy to understand a quick departure.

And yet I have to agree with Rick Salutin in a recent article, saying that the withdrawal of extra-curricular services is targeting the wrong people.  That’s the problem with public employees.  Strikes and work to rule campaigns in the private sector are designed to hit the owners in the profit margin.  Public employees usually can’t do that, as their bosses usually aren’t out to make a profit.  They have to hope that their labour action will enrage the public sector enough to put pressure on the government.  That usually doesn’t happen, and that’s something that the Teachers’ Federation has never seemed to understand.  The goal absolutely has to be to win the hearts of the public, and that’s not going to be accomplished by cutting extra-curricular activities or extra help.  Workers striking at Ford don’t lash out against the customers.  They hit the owners.  Public servants don’t have “owners” as such, but that’s no reason to inconvenience the customers.

I have been employed as a teacher through several labour actions, and often worked in the media section of the Federation trying to keep teachers informed of the negotiation progress.  I found that the federation people often had a complete lack of tact and had achieved their positions as a result of an assertive or even aggressive stance.  It’s often “We’re going to show them!”, -but the “them” is often misdirected or poorly thought out.  The Federation seems oblivious to the necessary PR component of their task, and when I pointed it out to them, they just said that it doesn’t work that way.  Well, it’s never seemed to work their way either.

Public servants, and in particular those designated as essential services, are in a unique labour position.  They can’t negotiate the same way as the private sector does, but both sides don’t seem to recognize this.  There needs to be put into place a policy which states that if the right to a negotiated settlement is removed from a group of workers, either because they are essential services, or because the government otherwise deems it to be necessary (because teachers are not essential services), then there has to be an alternative form or template for negotiation.  That template can prohibit a strike or other job actions, but those lost rights should be replaced by other rights and guarantees that the process will be fair to both sides.  Perhaps it would be a form of arbitration, from a fairly elected board.   Perhaps it will be a guarantee of wage increases taking into consideration the cost of living.

However, at no time should a group of workers be hobbled in their ability to negotiate a contract with their employers.  At no time should legislation be passed banning due process.  That’s what happened in Wisconsin, and although the decisions were upheld, the storm that followed made it clear that there were polarized views in their society, many of whom were being ignored.  Even in a democracy, a government cannot make laws that remove rights from a particular group of people.

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