Province-wide education bargaining under consideration

Unions want framework agreements in universities too

In November 2007, Ontario’s education minister, Kathleen Wynne, encouraged meetings among trustee associations, teacher federations and unions representing education support workers to discuss the merits of province-wide bargaining on certain issues. What has resulted so far are four-year framework agreements with 19 federations and unions covering 327 (or 68 percent) of the public education sector’s 475 collective agreements. About 120,000 school board and provincial schools’ employees are involved.

The framework agreements cover pay increases, staffing increases and improvements to working conditions (including prep time), but other issues are still decided on a local basis. The chief reason for this change is to save time and money.

Even though the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has yet to participate, it is safe to conclude that combined contract bargaining (a.k.a. Provincial Discussion Table agreements) has been established with considerable success for Ontario school boards.

Another education sector which might benefit from such province-wide coordinated bargaining would be Ontario universities. Some steps have been taken on the union side to coordinate bargaining across the province. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has established a group called the Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee (OUWCC) to set priorities for the sector over the next three years. Made up of elected representatives from each campus, as well as staff support and community partners and student groups, the committee’s members hope to strengthen the union’s presence at the bargaining table of each university — a goal made more urgent, according to the OUWCC, given that the current economic slow-down may accelerate funding cuts and jeopardize job security and the quality of higher education.

According to John Peters, a Laurentian University political scientist, writing in, the facilitation process the OUWCC uses relies on open conversations rather than structured agendas. Action plans are sent back to individual member locals for approval. Target areas chosen this year included wages, health and safety and protections against violence in the workplace. “Currently,” says Peters, “about 92 per cent of the university locals have chosen to affiliate themselves with OUWCC and its goal of provincially coordinated bargaining by 2010.”

However, the Ontario government is not considering coordinated bargaining for the province’s universities despite this fall’s strikes at the University of Windsor and at York University. John Milloy, the minister of training, colleges and universities, says maintaining the autonomy of each university is more important.

Fred Hahn, secretary-treasurer of the Ontario chapter of CUPE, argues that both time and money could be saved through combined bargaining. A Canadian Press report quotes him as saying, “Local unions that might spend a year at the table have been able to reach agreements in two months.” He has encouraged the Ontario government to “think about ways of doing things differently.”

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