FILE -- Protesters rally against the province`s controversial Bill 115 in this tbnewswatch.com file photograph.
THUNDER BAY -- Paul Caccamo says unless the province takes a different negotiating stance, he can’t see teachers returning to volunteer duties anytime soon.
Earlier this week Education Minister Laurel Broten, using powers granted under controversial Bill 115, imposed a contract on the province’s high school teachers, in the process taking away many of the benefits they’d previously enjoyed.
The legislation also removes teachers’ right to collectively bargain their contracts.
Caccamo, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation District 6 bargaining unit president, is off to Toronto on Wednesday for help union leaders figure out their next steps in the ongoing dispute with the province.
Frustrated with Ontario’s insistence on Bill 115, Caccamo says this week’s meetings will help them formulate a plan of attack moving forward.
“What she’s done is both unwarranted and unacceptable and we will continue to fight,” Caccamo said, interviewed at the OSSTF’s Balmoral Street office.
The new contract freezes salaries for two years, halves the number of sick days from 20 to 10 and ends the time-honoured process of banking them to cash out at retirement.
According to the Ministry of Education website, the imposed deals, 65 of which were ratified on Jan. 3, will save the province $250 million in 2012-2013, a figure that will grow to $540 in 2013-14; additionally the province says it will save $1.1 million with the elimination of banked sick days, all part of the province’s attempt to get rid of a $14-billion deficit.
A similar deal was signed with Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association this past summer.
Caccamo said teachers are fuming they weren’t given a say, and fears it’s a slippery slope union workers will never bounce back from.
None of this had to happen, said Caccamo, admitting he wouldn’t be too upset if the new Liberal leader forces Broten – or a new education minister – to reverse course.
In November, Lakehead Public Schools and its teachers reached an agreement locally, a deal Broten vetoed.
“We were absolutely committed, as we have been for decades, to engage in labour negotiations with our employers. And each and every time we’ve done that in the past it’s been successful.
“We remain committed that if (Broten) backs away, takes away this contract that she imposed on us, and gives us a fair opportunity to sit down and truly negotiate, which she has not done, we can come to terms with our local employer in such a way that there will be labour peace.”
Disappointment and anger are the words he used to describe the feeling of educators, who have stopped taking part in extra-curricular activities, which has effectively put an end to the high school sports season and curbed other clubs, including drama productions, as well.
Caccamo said he had a chance to speak with several Liberal leadership hopefuls when they debated last month in Thunder Bay, said he heard words of promise from them.
“They echoed the concern that labour unrest is not what they want to see in education, but also made a commitment to sit down if they become the premier and take meaningful steps back to the education system,” he said.
“The minister of education talks at great length of the good will that’s in our schools. In order to have good will, people on both sides need to be treated properly. And we are absolutely firm in our position that she has not treated us fairly. And the lack of good will that’s in our schools right now is a direct result of her actions.”
The hard feelings against Broten run deep in the union, and it might just be time for her to step aside, he said.
“Certainly I think new blood could certainly lead to new opportunities. But at the same time, if she stays in the position, we certainly hope she’ll come to her senses and take some meaningful steps to try to rectify some of the poor decisions she’s made.”
Broten earlier this week announced Bill 115 will be repealed at month’s end now that the contracts have been implemented.
Click here to submit a letter to the editor.