With 2 weeks left in the current provincial election campaign, Nova Scotia teachers are still smarting from a contract imposed on us by legislation earlier this year. Following the rejection of 3 tentative agreements that had been recommended by the teachers’ union executive, Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government pushed through Bill 75, which took away the right to strike, imposed wage freezes, and fell far short of the investments needed to fix the crisis in our public schools.
Given all this, it’s no surprise that teachers – many of whom voted Liberal in the last election – are looking to vote otherwise. Both the NDP and the PC party promise to repeal Bill 75, implement class size caps in all grades (presumably with adequate funding) and otherwise invest in education.
As teachers in Nova Scotia mull over their bargaining team’s third attempt at a tentative agreement in just over a year, here are a few observations about the dispute, and about teachers’ and workers’ power in general.
1) Teachers have a new idea of what is possible. Many of the issues teachers have raised over the last year – overcrowded classrooms, insufficient supports for students with special needs, excessive amounts of time spent on clerical tasks – have worsened fairly slowly over the past 10-15 years. Change happened gradually enough that opposition to it was weak, and a general sense of resignation slowly set in.
As the contract dispute has progressed, teachers have started to think big. Class sizes of 35-40 are no longer thought of as inevitable. (New Brunswick has class caps of 29 even in upper grades.) Teachers are speaking out against endless “improvement plans” and “accountability” measures that never seem to result in actual improvements or accountability. The impossibility of meeting the growing diversity of classroom needs under constant cost-cutting budgets has become a serious topic of discussion.
Every so often I find myself in a conversation with someone who wonders if unions are still needed in Canada today.
Today we have laws to protect workers, they’ll say. There’s no more child labour; we get paid extra for overtime; employers can’t discriminate based on race, sex or anything else; employees are required to get breaks; etc. Why bother paying dues to a union?
A report last week from a panel that examined Ontario’s labour laws shows exactly why.
Some quick thoughts today from a guest: Doug Nesbitt. Doug is a PhD student in labour history at Queen’s University in Kingston and an editor of RankandFile.ca, a site dedicated to “Canadian labour news and analysis from a critical perspective.”
Teachers in Ontario found reason to celebrate recently.
In 2012, the Ontario Liberal government passed the “Putting Students First Act,” a bill which imposed contracts on teachers and effectively took away their right to strike.
This April, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that this act (also known as Bill 115), had violated teachers’ constitutional rights. Teachers, like other workers, are guaranteed the right to negotiate the terms of their work collectively and to have these negotiations be meaningful. Bill 115 had made this impossible.
Teachers and many other public-sector workers across the country welcomed the ruling, seeing it as a precedent which protects against current or future governments trying the same kind of legislative trick.
The campaign centres on raising the minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour and securing basic benefits like paid sick days for all workers.
The teachers (Kate Curtis, Jason Kunin and Seth Bernstein) drew connections between the challenges they see some kids facing in their classrooms and the precarious, low-wage work available to those kids’ family members. Continue reading Teachers and the fight for 15→
The Nova Scotia Teachers Union will elect a new president later this spring. Six candidates are attempting to replace Shelley Morse, who is completing her second two-year term in office. (NSTU rules state that no president can serve for more than four years.)