Long Painful Education Negotiations the Fault of the Principals

 

This, still unfinished, round of education negotiations between Ontario teachers and education workers in a first time, trilateral negotiation with the Province of Ontario and OBSBA the school boards association and its catholic equivalent has been unnecessarily long and unnecessarily painful for all involved including parents and students and ALL of the blame can be laid at the feet of the principals and their organization the Ontario Principals’ Council (OPC).

 

The egos, the narcissism and the pettiness of the principals inspired the core of the management demands for the restoration of management rights that had been negotiated away for years. Only a very small aspect of this entire round of negotiations involved compensation. The absurd laundry list injected into the negotiations by OPC via OPSBA slowed the negotiations to a crawl and cause the elementary teachers to walk away from the table in late spring. They announced they would be back for serious negotiations when the decks were cleared of nonsensical, backward- looking contract strips.

 

 

The principals’ dystopian, powers tripping lists included, but were not limited to, the following in teacher negotiations:

 

Elementary

  • Management control of teacher prep time (presumably to assign more on-call coverage).

  • An increase in teacher supervision (yard duty type supervision)

  • Management final say of diagnostic testing, overruling teacher professionalism

  • Removal of a negotiated fair hiring policy that took seniority into account

  • Management right to direct work beyond the school day

  • Erosion of on-call teacher rights

  • Removal of class size caps (flexibility )

  • Changes in the role of ECEs

 

Secondary

  • Loss of Adult Day school maternity leave

  • Continuance of a pay delay on grid movement

  • Elimination of second degree allowances

  • Loss of sick leave

  • Removal of hiring policy designed to counteract nepotism

  • No prep time for many classes of teacher guidance library …

  • Up to 60 ½ period on-calls per year per teacher

  • Occasional teachers, as above, work every period

  • Principals to assign duties outside of school time without limit

  • No capped class sizes in secondary

  • Failed or redundant Principals and VPs can return to teacher bargaining unit

 

There must have been an initial tendency for the unions to simply laugh off this list but the boards, their superintendents and directors, with OPC ensconced in the back rooms, were actually serious. To expect a single solitary one of these reactionary items to survive is risible but to actually be serious about the entire list was beyond serious comprehension.

 

Management Rights, often the residual aspects of contracts, are hard fought over at any time. Compensation can always be eaten away at by inflation and future grants but a management right lost is usually seen to be lost in perpetuity. Fighting to turn back the clock was always a suicide mission but apparently OPC and their allies actually believed they could succeed and treated each of these items as “must haves’.

They somehow failed to see that the Wynne government was in a weakened state due to the Sudbury by-election scandal, the privatization of Hydro One and a looming Federal election overlaid on a teacher negotiations mess, created a highly unpredictable situation.

 

Arbitrators are loath to upset the status quo on these types of issues and tend to grant some kind of inflation package on compensation so arbitration was a dead end for OPC.

 

The teachers only had to operate a slow escalation in work-to-rule with the principals themselves the most inconvenienced party, to make the OPC plan a real ‘root canal’ for the principals themselves while the teachers did less work for full pay. Could the OPC not see that coming or did their own arrogance blind them to the reality that they were destined to lose and it was only a matter of time?

 

This was clearly a power struggle over the workplace as a site of struggle with a desperate OPC trying to get the toothpaste back into the tube. Workplace politics is important politics, let no one doubt that. There is serious academic work on this exact topic.

 

The study of the ‘teacher labour process’ is not a new field. Writers like Harry Braverman initiated ‘Labour Process Theory’ that pointed to an increasing ‘proletarianization’ or de-professionalization of teacher work. Later studies have found Braverman “too deterministic” in his outlook but his work and the later critiques are highly instructive.

 

Demands for ‘flexibility’ arise from the ‘doing more with less’ direction. They are the serious aspects of management command and control. When a boss demands ‘flexibility’ the workers are about to get a beat down. The attack on second degree allowances is a bald faced attack of anti-intellectualism. The attacks on teacher professional judgment are text book proletarianization AKA de-professionalization in teacher world.

 

Eventually, if the intellectual brain work can be removed from teachers, the reactionaries will be able to slow down compensation demands and hire para-professionals to do much or most of the work. None of this is an accident.

 

Speaking to the federations on background, one leader told me, “none of these new principals remember a time when principals were also in the union.” OSSTF was largely founded by principals and the former OPSTF, a constituent part of the present ETFO, was a principal dominated section of the federations. Federation activism was even considered excellent training for budding principals.

 

Instead of leading by example, by inspiration and by ability, sadly many principals fall back on favourtism, reward and punish style behaviors but when the tools to deliver favourtism in hiring and assignments are circumscribed by collective agreements; principals chafe at their lack of control. There is a very heavy price to pay within schools for this principal initiated power struggle. Teachers and workers begin to look at the principal less as ‘Joe’ the affable principal and more as ‘the Man’ ‘the Boss’ ‘the Heavy’ in this movie. Respect turns to fear and resistance. The atmosphere sours, the grievances begin to mount. The cooperative, collegial work pattern is lost.

 

As the ETFO strike continues and teachers refuse to cover for absent colleagues, principals are forced to cover classes. This ‘loss of face’ is more than some of the fragile egos can bear. They actually attempt to make the case that the schools are unsafe due to these sanctions.

 

One is tempted to say “author author” as the principals were the authors of their own discomfort.

 

This has to be the Alamo for these specific, pathetic management demands but we cannot be naïve. Teacher de-professionalism is the agenda of the serious teacher bashers of the far right. This is sometimes projected through the ‘useful idiots’ of local management. These types of demands, even in the form of legislation, will resurface in the next round. Remember the principals were legislated out of the unions by Harris.

 

The support staff workers struggle is only really beginning as they fight for job security in a declining enrolment time and pathetically underfunded system.

 

Struggles that seem local to participants are actually world-wide in scope.  Teachers and education workers need to study the resistance, the failures and the successes of brothers and sisters around the world, educate the members on the nature of the enemy, and pre-position themselves for similar assaults in the future. Neo-liberalism is not dead. It is not even wounded, but it can be beaten. Do you want to know the secret to successful resistance? It is spelled

 

S-O-L-I-D-A-R-I-T-Y