Final President’s Memo from Doug


President’s Memo

OSSTF Provincial Staff Salary Update

Since I wrote a few months ago about my concerns with the troubling disparity between the salaries of staff working at Provincial OSSTF office and the members they serve, I have had a number of requests to elaborate on the points I was attempting to make.

The people I am referring to are the 28 Executive Assistants, including four Directors, who work at Provincial Office at 60 Mobile Drive and are in a union called the Staff Association. They are former OSSTF members, either teachers or support staff, who are appointed to these jobs by the Provincial Executive.

On January 1, 2018, the salary for Executive Assistants at the top of their grid (which is five steps compared to the eleven step grid for Toronto teachers) will be $204,924. The four Directors will each receive $220,615. For a comparison, the Premier of Ontario, according to last year’s Sunshine List, earned $208,974. OSSTF staff also receives a very generous Benefits Plan separate from ours. They do not work a significant number of days more than a teacher.

I am not disparaging the work ethic of Staff Association members. I’m sure they work hard, just as teachers and support staff workers work hard. It is the gap between these employees of the union and the members of the union that I find disturbing. I’ll repeat the comparison I made in the first memo. Two teachers, one is appointed to Provincial Office to work as an Executive Assistant, the other remains in the classroom. In a short ten years, if the gap remains what it is, the former will make over $1,000,000 more than the latter. As we see increasingly in the world, this kind of disparity is very unhealthy for a society. It is positively ruinous for a union.

This sorry state of affairs came about because of how negotiations between OSSTF and the Staff Association have been conducted historically. A tentative agreement is reached and recommended by the Provincial Compensation Committee and Provincial Executive for ratification by OSSTF Provincial Council. A cynic might suggest this may be a conflict of interest in that the members of Provincial Council tend to be the primary pool for hires.

In any case, there has traditionally been a lack of transparency in the process. When I first attended Provincial Council 18 years ago, we were informed only of the improvements, not what the actual salaries were!  Even after that changed, until quite recently Staff salaries were disclosed in camera so members beyond Provincial Council would not know what was happening. It has only been through the efforts of some members, led by Provincial Treasurer Earl Burt, that we can now disclose these salaries to the members without fear of repercussions.

Once the gap was established decades ago, it would grow with every settlement even if Staff received the same percentage raise as members because of basic mathematics. A 1% increase for a teacher at the top of the grid amounts to $975; for an OSSTF Executive Assistant, $2,049, a $1,074 difference. So every time the Staff Association gets a raise, even if it’s the same as teachers receive, the chasm widens.

Fortunately, there is some sign of change in the attitude of Provincial Council when it comes to bargaining with the Staff Association. Last spring, the Association proposed an extension of their agreement on the same terms as the one negotiated for teachers with the Provincial Government. This proposal was supported by the Provincial Executive except for the Treasurer. Unexpectedly, Provincial Council voted not to accept the Staff’s offer. If the proposal had been accepted, the gap would have kept increasing until 2020. With its rejection, their current contract expires in 2018.

Members have asked what they can do about this problem. Provincial Councillors from the Toronto Teachers Bargaining Unit have consistently voted that the gap be addressed in bargaining but, apart from the above proposal, we have been in the minority at Provincial Council. If you know a member from another bargaining unit or district, talk to them about the problem and ask them to put pressure on their local representative to Provincial Council to address the issue next year.

All Done.  Bye Bye.

This is my last President’s Memo as I will be retiring at the end of the month. As such, I trust that some of you will indulge me some final thoughts about the union.

I’m biased, of course, but I truly believe that OSSTF Toronto Teachers is a very good union local. When we’ve been able, we have bargained hard. I’ve been on our bargaining team every round since 2000 and we have always been the last to agree to a deal, sometimes by several months. We are last to settle because we have not accepted anything less than what we believed to be the best possible contract. Between bargaining, we defend members vigorously through individual, group and policy grievances, as well as through direct confrontation with management.

As strong as OSSTF Toronto is, it is strongest when you, the members, are involved. When members stop paying attention to union matters is when we are weakest. If you are involved, please don’t stop and if you are not involved, please consider changing that. If you are not yet registered on the union web site, do so now. Take the time to read what is sent to you. Attend your school’s OSSTF meetings and listen to the report of your Branch President who should be attending our monthly Council meetings where the Executive delivers its report. There is also ample opportunity at Council for the Branch Presidents to forward your concerns to the Executive so please provide feedback at your school’s meetings.

The working life of teachers continues to become more and more complicated which means unions have to adapt to different situations. For example, bargaining has changed due to government legislation, creating a situation last round where items that are the main motivators for members – wages, benefits, and workload – were all dealt with at the Provincial rather than local level. Rather than taking the easier path that many teacher union locals took, the OSSTF Toronto Executive moved other issues like health and safety, adult education, union leave costs and reporting periods, issues just as important as the big three but historically less considered, to the forefront. This was risky because even during those many times we were fighting a major issue such as protection of our contract language that restricts the number of on calls and supervisions teachers can be assigned, there was still a nervousness expressed by some members when we went on strike. Nevertheless, the Executive called a job action over these new issues and, despite attempts to undermine the bargaining strategy by a small number of members, we were in the end successful.

We won because most members trusted that the Executive knew what it was doing. They also trusted the process. What I mean by that is that decisions in OSSTF Toronto are made by the body designated in the Constitution. It may be the Executive, Council, General meetings, or all-member votes. There are checks and balances to ensure that we do things democratically.

An organization made up of over 6,000 high school teachers is guaranteed to contain a diversity of strong opinions and that is vital for the health of the union. All of our decisions allow for debate so many different sides can be heard before the issues are resolved.

Debate, however, should be honest. By that I mean, speakers should not appeal only to emotion. For example, if you disagree with a tentative agreement, you can make your voice heard in the schools but this should be more than simple contrarianism. State specifically why an agreement shouldn’t be ratified and what measures could be taken to improve it.

We debate and vote, that is how we make decisions and once the decision is made by whatever body is supposed to make it, we should then move on together.

Unions have been a major part of my life. My father was a proud member of United Steelworkers Local 1005 at Stelco in Hamilton and my mother came from a family of Red Clydesiders, radical Labour Glaswegians. I have been an active member of several unions, industrial and public sector. When I was a Masters student at the University of Guelph, I tried to organize Sessionals and Teaching Assistants for the now-defunct Canadian Union of Educational Workers.  I studied Labour History at the PhD level, and taught it at university and high school. I have been so proud to have been an actual union leader and, even considering all the stress and aggravation that comes with the job, it has been a wonderful experience.  I don’t regret a second of it.

In the early years of the union movement, and still at meetings of Toronto Labour Council and other multi-union organizations like the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress, delegates address each other as Brothers and Sisters. While this practice may sound quaint to our modern ears, I believe there is something important to it for it represents the attribute most needed in any union: good will. My last request to you is to assume, as much as is possible, good will in your brothers and sisters in OSSTF. Thank you for your support of OSSTF Toronto.